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Criminal Justice

Culver City Joins The Move To Unarmed Mental Health Crisis Response

A sign in Culver City reads "Culver City: The Heart of Screenland." The sign is metal and resembles film. It also reads "Incorporated 1917"
A sign in Culver City reads "The Heart of Screenland"
(Ronald B Gilbert
/
Flickr Creative Commons )
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Culver City plans to roll out an unarmed response to non-violent mental health crisis calls next year.

The city joins several other municipalities in Southern California that have begun — or are planning — to get law enforcement out of dealing with those situations.

Culver City’s intention is to send out two-person teams made up of a mental health and medical professional to non-violent psychiatric emergencies in a bid to avoid arrests, trauma and violence.

In September, Huntington Beach began sending its own unarmed teams out on mental health crisis calls.

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Garden Grove has its own teams now and the Irvine City Council recently voted to start a similar program there.

L.A. County will soon have its teams of unarmed clinicians available around the clock. The city of L.A. is looking for a contractor to launch a program that would handle all non-violent mental health calls.

Culver City Mayor Daniel Lee said about half the calls to his city’s police department are mental health-related.

“People on both sides of the issue, whether they’re more conservative or more liberal to progressive ... agree that we give police officers a whole lot of different jobs to do, many which they are not trained to do,” he said.

Lee said certain things police do when responding to a mental health call — like handcuffing someone and putting them in the back of a squad car — can unnecessarily escalate a person’s crisis.

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“[These] are … things that we need to end, because they agitate people and sometimes they lead to greater confrontation,” he said.

The Culver City Council’s Ad Hoc Crisis Response Subcommittee selected Critical Responses in Supportive Integrated Services Consulting to help develop the program, which it hopes to launch as a year-long pilot next summer.

The Culver City Police Department currently has its own teams that respond to crisis calls, but the plan is to have the new unarmed units start to phase out the police department effort.

Noting his possible bias as someone with a doctorate in social work, Lee said when people express concerns about putting social workers in potentially dangerous situations, he has this response: “Social workers are in those situations every day.”

There are social workers who regularly have to speak one-on-one with people who have committed violent crimes, Lee said.

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“They do it without provoking people, without being injured and getting to a resolution that helps everyone without anyone losing their life,” he said.

What questions do you have about L.A.'s criminal justice system?
Robert Garrova is reporting on the intersection of mental health and law enforcement.
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