Sacramento County moves forward with mental health response team in lieu of police for certain 911 calls

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) – The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors moved ahead with a plan to have a mental health crisis team respond to certain 911 calls instead of police or sheriff’s deputies. 

The proposal drew initial concerns from the county’s police chiefs and on Tuesday community members told the board that the plan doesn’t go far enough. 

After numerous cases of people with mental health issues dying at the hands of police officers, there were calls for a different method of responding to emergency calls without involving officers. 

A Sacramento County plan that would use mental health strike teams to respond to certain 911 calls, funded by a possible reduction in police budgets, initially drew concerns but law enforcement in the county is now working to implement such a plan. 

That decision was made easier by the availability of state and federal mental health funds that could fund as much as 80% of the cost. 

But dozens of callers to the board Tuesday feared that police and their perceived control of the 911 system was a deal breaker.  

“Get law enforcement as far away from this as possible. They only cause trauma and death,” one caller said.

Many callers instead want a separate emergency call center staffed by mental health professionals, using a 988 emergency number that is being set up by federal legislation. 

But county supervisors tried to reassure callers that the 911 system routinely channels calls to fire, ambulances and other services as needed and is not controlled by law enforcement. 

County staff said they are looking at the end goal. 

“There’s no doubt that it’d be a non-law enforcement response on the street to the situation,” said Deputy County Executive Bruce Wagstaff.

Setting up a whole separate call dispatch center would be costly. 

“If there are efficiencies there that would save us money that we could spend it somewhere else,” said Supervisor Sue Frost.

In the end, the board agreed to have mental health professionals staff 911 centers to get the program going and switch to a mental health call center when federal dollars become available. 

For the time being mental health crisis calls will still go to 911 even if officers won’t be responding to them.

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