Mental health crisis counselors hit the streets alongside police in Chico for the first time Tuesday under an agreement with county officials.
Proud of the program but tempering expectations, Chico Police Chief Michael O’Brien said the teams aren’t a panacea. The teams won’t be available 24/7 nor are they a response to recent officer involved shootings O’Brien said.
“It is not going to resolve every situation, just remember that, it will not resolve every situation,” O’ Brien said. “That is not what they’re designed to do, but we believe that they can certainly help in many, many instances.”
Dorian Kittrell, Director of Butte County Behavioral Health succinctly described the concept.
“Ideally, an officer will come to a call, determine that this is actually a mental health call, and then call for the assistance of my folks to come out, help assess, see if there aren’t alternatives to just writing a ‘51-50’ and taking them to the emergency room or bringing them to our crisis unit,” Kittrell said.
Such interventions cut expensive hospitalizations in half, Kittrell said.
The two behavioral health counselors, Manson Petty and Pam DeCamp, will be available to be dispatched along with police to try and defuse incidents involving the mentally ill or those in the depths of despair. Counselors recently successfully coaxed an agitated man from a barricaded home, after a six-hour standoff with police, O’Brien said. He said there are some instances that can be better resolved if the police are in a supporting role.
“We have all of our police officers trained in crisis intervention training and things of that nature and they’re well trained and they’re great at what they do, but they’re not mental health experts,” O’Brien said.
Similar efforts are already in place in many larger California cities. Shasta County is preparing to launch a comparable program.
Butte County received a grant earlier this week and officials are hoping to expand the program to elsewhere in the county, Kittrell said.