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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

New Mental Health Unit for Police Bureau? Bidding Adieu to St. Johns? More Tidbits in Budget Report

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Wed, Mar 21, 2012 at 4:44 PM

A couple of days ago, I wrote about some surprise costs in the police bureau budget ($1.9 million for longevity pay and college diplomas) that might make it hard to not lay off police officers this year. After reading through a city analysis of the bureau's budget a few more times, a few more details caught my eye.

According to the report, the police bureau has drafted plans for a special Mental Health Unit that would serve as a dedicated receptacle for 911 calls involving people in crisis—an alternative to current plans to divert certain suicide calls to the county health crisis line. The concept is intriguing, if still somewhat undeveloped. It's also unfunded. Starting it up and running it would cost $2.5 million.

Update 4:51PM: Sergeant Pete Simpson, a bureau spokesman, emailed with some more information, chiefly an answer to the question of whether this idea sprang from the ongoing probe of the bureau's use of force against people with mental illness. "The Mental Health Unit proposal captures a number of things that the police bureau has been working toward for a long time, well before the DOJ investigation," he says. "At this early stage though, it's just a proposal as part of the budget process and to talk about it further would be premature."

New Mental Health Call Center. As an alternative to re-directing a portion of 911 calls to the County’s Mental Health Crisis Line, the bureau has prepared a sketch program outline and cost analysis has been prepared for a Mental Health Unit within the Police Bureau. The program is inspired by a model employed by the City of Los Angeles with the goal of more comprehensively triaging a broader array of mental health crises. The unit would include:

• One triage desk officer (24/7) to gather intelligence for better decision making and dispatch either Project Respond, MC or a patrol car;

• Two Project Respond Clinicians (24/7) to answer transfer calls from 911, attempting to resolve issues via phone contact only and to connect the caller with community resources; and

• One Mobile Crisis Unit on day shift in all three precincts, including one officer and one Project Respond clinician who would respond to calls that could not be resolved over the phone.

The other tidbit will be a bummer for my neighbors up in St. Johns. Amid plans to reopen the old Southeast Precinct, city financial planners say the bureau should reconsider its presence in the old St. Johns City Hall—as a way to save money that would help pay for the bureau's new training facility. The bureau's training division staff currently calls the place home. Parts of the bureau's traffic division are slated to move in after the training facility opens.

The bureau’s current estimate for rental savings once its training facility is operational is approximately $73,000. If the former Training Division headquarters of St Johns were vacated, savings would grow to $243,000. The bureau and City would need to reassess the commitment to maintain a police presence in this community in perpetuity. While at least a perceived benefit to a relatively high crime community, this commitment has disadvantages to the bureau in that the 100+ year old building is in need of expensive repairs, not configured for modern police operations and a poorly located base for the most Police divisions....

The bureau should also consider alternative means of providing a presence in St Johns, including moving to smaller and less expensive space that allows for better community access.

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