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Criminal Justice

LAPD Mental Health Teams Aren’t Keeping Up With The Number Of Psychiatric Crisis Calls

A metal barricade stands in front of the Los Angeles Police Department Headquarters in downtown L.A. The lettering on the building reads 'Los Angeles Police Department; Ronald F. Deaton Civic Auditorium'
LAPD Headquarters in front of City Hall.
(Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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An LAPD program designed to de-escalate mental health crisis encounters continues to get more calls than it can handle.

The department partners with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health to send out two-person teams of an armed officer and a mental health clinician when someone is in a psychiatric crisis.

The idea is to get the person help rather than arrest them, hopefully avoiding bad outcomes.

But between Jan. 2021 and July 2022, the department's Mental Evaluation Unit (MEU) teams only responded to about one-third of mental health calls. The teams handled 10,918 of the 31,923 mental health calls that came in during that period. The average response time was about 30 minutes.

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Chief Michel Moore told the Police Commission on Tuesday he would like one of the specially-trained MEU teams to go out on “every mental health-related call,” while acknowledging the department is far from achieving that goal.

The LAPD currently has between 10-12 MEU teams in the field each day, LAPD Capt. Lynette Miles told the commission as she presented the MEU statistics.

The department has funding to add another four units next year. And the proposed L.A. city budget for the fiscal year that starts next July includes a request to expand MEU with an additional 19 positions. But Miles said the Department of Mental Health is "not able to apply additional staffing" at this time. 

She cited two factors: first, DMH is competing with the private sector for clinicians, and second, it has to supply staff for other similar programs, such as the Mental Evaluation Team run by the Sheriff's Department.

Late last year, an LAPD officer shot and killed 22-year-old Margarito López, whose family said he had a mental disability.

Moore told KPCC earlier this year that the department should have dispatched an MEU team when officers responded to the call regarding López. “Whether it would have resulted in a different outcome we’ll never know, but certainly that’s what we expect is that we get those resources there at the earliest opportunity,” the chief said.

According to the department, of the 37 LAPD shootings in 2021, “more than half ... involved individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.”

LAPD’s difficulty in keeping up with the number of mental health calls comes as many activists and lawmakers continue to make the push for a fully unarmed approach to psychiatric crisis response.

What questions do you have about mental health in SoCal?
One of my goals on the mental health beat is to make the seemingly intractable mental health care system more navigable.