San Luis Obispo Police Department’s team of officers that deals with the city’s chronic homeless and mentally ill residents will soon have a full-time social worker with them in the field, one of several ongoing efforts to better treat those with serious psychiatric needs and keep them out of jail.
The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved funding for the mental health-focused social worker for assignment with the City of San Luis Obispo’s Community Action Team (CAT). The team focuses on preventative measures and outreach to the city’s repeat offenders, including people struggling with mental health issues, homelessness and substance abuse.
This is about alternatives to jail.
San Luis Obispo Police Department Captain Chris Staley
The position will cost roughly $60,000, which is covered by Mental Health Services Act funding, and is one of several approved last month as part of sweeping reforms county officials promised following a $5 million settlement to the family of a mentally ill inmate who died in the County Jail in January 2017.
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On Jan. 23, the board approved the creation of a full-time therapist/social worker, who will be contracted through Transitions Mental Health Association and embedded with the CAT to provide in-field support and consultation in cases involving residents with severe mental health needs.
On Tuesday, SLOPD Capt. Chris Staley said the new position will help officers assess if a person they contact is appropriate for additional screening, assessment or treatment in lieu of booking into the County Jail, depending on the reason for contact. The new hire will additionally help train department officers and non-sworn staff in department-mandated crisis intervention.
“This is about alternatives to jail,” Staley said. “We don’t necessarily want these folks in the criminal justice system.”
The position will also represent the first time the local CAT Program will include a full-time mental health worker in its roughly five years. This model that pairs law enforcement officers with social services staff is practiced in some larger U.S. cities and is generally supported by advocacy groups like Disability Rights California.
Staley said that while the contractor will assist the city department, the county is paying for the employee due to the city having the county’s highest rate of calls for crisis intervention, affecting county resources at the jail and Health Agency.
Sheriff Ian Parkinson has said that jail staff is overburdened with inmates with mental and medical health needs, with roughly 60 percent of inmates requiring some sort of psychotropic medication.
Joe Madsen, director of housing and support services for Transitions Mental Health, said the organization is planning to begin advertising for the position this week and hopes to have a person in place by April.
Permanent funding for the position will be requested in a new contract with Transitions Mental Health that will go before the board this summer.