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Responders seek new mental health approach

Drastic increase in calls has police seeking new ways to cope with problem.

September 30, 2011|By Maria Hsin, maria.hsin@latimes.com

The number of mental health-related emergency calls has increased significantly in the last two years, police said, prompting a fresh approach for tackling the problem.

With the beating death of a mentally ill homeless man by two Fullerton police officers in July still fresh in the minds of the region’s police agencies, the upward trend in Burbank of encounters with people with mental health issues is pushing officials to initiate a collective response among local nonprofit and healthcare providers to target familiar faces on the streets.

Officials say that typically it is a small proportion of the mentally ill homeless that take up most of their resources in terms of calls for service and emergency response, sapping valuable resources for other public safety issues.

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“The high-risk folks we see again and again and again and we know [it’s] associated with quality of life issues,” Police Capt. Mike Albanese said. “They are homeless, or have mental health problems.”

Calls involving mental health issues have increased by about 25% over last year, a year in which mental health-related calls also grew by about 25%, Albanese said.

“Last year we thought, ‘Wow these are big numbers,’ and we contacted the Los Angeles County Department of Health,” Albanese said. “Everybody has had an uptick. The uptick varies, but there has been an increase.”

“There are over 389 mental health-related interventions this year to date,” Albanese said. “There are more (interventions) year-to-date than all of last year and we expect that number to continue to grow.”

The calls typically involve mental health interventions that require police to get a person to a mental institution where he or she can be evaluated. That’s a challenge for police agencies that are strapped for resources, Albanese noted.

In July, police met with community organizations that assist the homeless or that might be able to provide referrals for various social services.

Among the community organizations in attendance were the Burbank Temporary Aid Center, the Family Service Agency of Burbank, the YMCA, a representative from the Burbank Unified School District, Family Promise, and the Burbank Ministerial Assn.

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