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Redwood City to launch new mental health program that pairs cops with trained clinicians

Clinicians pair up with law enforcement in San Mateo County’s four largest cities
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Mental health professionals are teaming up with Redwood City police officers as the city launches its pilot program aimed at de-escalating 9-1-1 calls and providing appropriate, compassionate care for non-violent individuals, according to city and county officials. 

The Community Wellness and Crisis Response Pilot Project in Redwood City is one of four that are launching on Monday in the county’s largest cities, which in addition to Redwood City include Daly City, San Mateo and South San Francisco, according to officials. 

The program’s goals are to provide an alternative to jail and overburdened hospital emergency rooms for non-violent individuals undergoing a behavioral health crisis and to free up police officers, according to a county press release. 

StarVista, a San Mateo County nonprofit that provides counseling and crisis center services, “has stepped up, and they're going to work with us," said Mayor Diane Howard, at a recent city event. 

StarVista, contracted out by the County’s Behavioral Health and Recovery Services (BHRS),   will train and supervise clinicians, who will be embedded with each city’s police department based on need. 

Supervisor Don Horsley said the program is intended to give police officers a resource by having a trained clinician that will be responsible for “managing high-risk situations in a way that improves outcomes and public safety.”

County Manager Mike Callagy echoed the sentiment.

“The County is proud to support such an important and necessary intervention which supports the safety of the individual in crisis and those around them,” Callagy said. “This provides another option for those who need mental health care rather than incarceration or hospitalization.”

Public safety 9-1-1 dispatchers will deploy the clinicians along with police officers to calls with individuals suspected of experiencing mental or behavioral health crises. Once officers declare the scene safe, clinicians will assess the individual and determine the best methods of immediate care.

BHRS Director Scott Gilman noted that there is no single solution in crisis response and this new pilot provides another tool that officers can use.

“BHRS is proud to help bring additional mental health resources to local law enforcement response,” Gilman said. “The partnership among responding officers and mental health clinicians will provide additional tools to promote de-escalation and safe resolution."

The John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities at Stanford University will independently evaluate the intervention and assessment methods used by the clinicians and cities to help refine the program as needed.

Under a cost-sharing agreement, the four participating cities will contribute $408,388 and the County will contribute $468,388 for each of two years, for a two-year total of approximately $1.5 million.

Leah Worthington contributed to this report.