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LAPD mental crisis units going to more calls after deployment change, commander says

The specially trained teams, which consist of both cops and mental health clinicians, are asking for more officers

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Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times/TNS

By Josh Cain
Daily News, Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES — The specially trained unit of Los Angeles Police Department officers charged with de-escalating encounters with people with mental illnesses is asking for more officers as the city tries to change the way police respond to such incidents.

A commander for LAPD’s Mental Evaluation Unit on Tuesday said it currently has 63 officers who deploy in 12 teams, called SMART units, across the city per day, waiting for requests to help respond to calls involving people in mental health crises.

The number of officers needs to almost double to 152 to fill out plans to expand the program to 34 teams, said Lt. Kelly Muniz in a meeting with Los Angeles police commissioners.

She said L.A. County Mental Health Department clinicians who partner up with the SMART units also need to have their team grow, from 29 on staff now to 60.

The request for more officers come after LAPD announced last month the expansion of the teams and a new way they’ll be deployed. Instead of getting requests from officers already at incidents involving people with mental illnesses, the teams will be expected to roll out first themselves. The units include the SMART officers and the DPH (mental health) clinicians who respond together.

Since Feb. 10, the team has responded to 56 more calls than in the same time the year before.

“The numbers there are no longer representing the current status of our unit — we’re actually getting to more calls that meet our criteria than we have in years past,” Muniz said.

[READ: Lessons learned from implementing a co-response police-mental health team]

Muniz submitted her report to the police commission on Tuesday after a request from Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez. The commission voted to move her report forward to the full City Council.

How the SMART plan could mesh with a potential City Council proposal to create a new, unarmed crisis response team, and whether there’d be money left over as the city grapples with a budget crunch and cuts to LAPD, wasn’t clear Tuesday.

The city council is pushing forward a new spending plan to take the $150 million cut from LAPD’s budget and reinvesting the money into communities of color. Part of the plan will dedicate $7.8 million for an unarmed-response pilot.

Commissioners Tuesday asked where the money might come from.

“It’s unclear to me whether the council is contemplating adding additional resources to the department to maintain the status quo, or to make it better,” said Commissioner Dale Bonner.

NEXT: How to develop a successful mental health intervention program

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