Health

S.F. police responding to fewer mental-health calls, but officials call for quicker action

San Francisco’s efforts to reduce the number of mental health-related calls handled by police have shown progress but need to be accelerated, according to a new city report and the supervisor who has spearheaded the program.

the report released this week showed that while new teams of mental health professionals have increased the percentage of calls they respond to about people in crisis, and police have reduced their portion of those calls, officers are still involved in a “significant” number.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who drafted legislation that created the teams, praised the city’s efforts in a hearing on Wednesday, but said the teams have not reduced the workload of police enough, and that many people in crisis have remained on the streets.

“We all agree police should not be the primary first responders to incidents of people experiencing mental illness, substance use disorder or just not having a place to live,” she said. “We’re investing so much time, money and energy. By this time next year, we’ve got to see movement…. The public has to feel some difference in the street or otherwise we’re going to lose any good will we have left.”

San Francisco is struggling to show improvements in addressing the crises of homelessness, mental illness and addiction on its streets even as it runs the Street Crisis Response and eight other outreach teams operated by multiple departments that respond to mental health crises, opioid overdoses and homeless encampments. , among other issues. The city has been at the forefront of a national push for police alternatives to respond to social issues in the wake of protests for racial justice and police reform after George Floyd’s murder, but it is still ironing out the logistics of the paradigm shift.

The Street Crisis Response Teams of mental health professionals were launched as part of Mental Health SF, sweeping legislation to overhaul the city’s broken behavioral health care system.

The teams, which started with one in the Tenderloin in November 2020, have ramped up to six citywide operating 24/7. They have responded to more than 6,500 calls about mentally ill people, the recent report from the Board of Supervisors’ Budget and Legislative Analyst said.

Staffing and pandemic constraints delayed the expansion of the teams and transition of all calls from police to the teams. Calls have still been sent to both parties, and when the teams aren’t available, police respond. The teams have increased the percentage of calls they respond to – from 10% to 60% – while the percentage that police respond to decreased from 85% to 47%.

In June, the city will add a seventh team and the fire department, not police, will become the backup for the teams. The program will cost $12.3 million in the upcoming fiscal year, compared to $10 million for five teams this time last year.

The teams have contacted police in 4% of calls when they experienced violence or resistance, and could keep doing so.

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