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Social worker to help police department tackle mental health calls

Number of mental-health-related calls increased from 287 in 2009 to 462 last year, officer says.

May 29, 2012|By Maria Hsin, maria.hsin@latimes.com

Burbank police now have a licensed clinician from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health working with officers on a full-time basis — a program they say could be a model for other cities.

The collaboration furthers the department's efforts to address an increase in calls that involve mental illness, Officer Kristiana Sanchez said.

The calls were averaging 31/2 hours with two officers responding, she said.

“That's taking two officers out of the field for that average time,” Sanchez said, adding that with multiple incidents in the field, “call loads stack up, response times get longer.”

Capt. Mike Albanese said the number of mental-health-related calls have increased from 287 in 2009 to 462 last year. That number could hit 550 this year, he added.

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Bringing on a mental health clinician relieves those officers, Sanchez said.

The clinical social worker, Svitlana Anishchenko, joined Sanchez and two other quality-of-life officers to create the Burbank Mental Health Evaluation Team last month.

With Anishchenko's contacts and resources, a call can be made to a hospital to arrange a bed, freeing police from having to transport someone to Olive View Hospital in Sylmar, Sanchez said.

Anishchenko has already worked on a mobile response team in the San Fernando Valley, also through the county department of mental health.

The Burbank team is part of a larger grass-roots initiative to combat an increase in homelessness, and to address the small number of transients with mental health problems that police see over and over again.

Burbank and Los Angeles County share the cost of the clinician's salary, Albanese said — similar to an agreement the city has with the county for a full-time probationary officer.

After discussions with Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich's office and the department of mental health last year, Burbank police officials were able to garner support for the program.

“I think it can be a model for cities of our size,” Albanese said.

Barely a month into the program, Anishchenko has been able to assist with 17 incidents, Albanese added.

“The bottom line is that it is a more professional and effective way of managing these extraordinary [incidents],” Albanese said.

Similar partnerships with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health exist in Pasadena and Long Beach.

Santa Monica — which served as a model for Burbank — has a mental health clinician that rides along with a homeless response team that includes six police officers and a sergeant who make referrals and other resources available to transients.

“Santa Monica works in this big circle, and [the different groups] work together really well,” Sanchez said.

Burbank Interim Police Chief Scott LaChasse said other police departments and academics have been calling about the mental health clinician.

“There's a very limited number of police departments that have tackled the issue,” LaChasse said. “We're on the leading edge of the issue right now. This affects the quality of everybody's lives, and it is a more permanent resolution to all of the problems that end up defaulting to the police department.”

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