By Paul Elias and Don Thompson, Associated Press
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Many police departments have specially trained officers and mental health professionals whose job is to help defuse the sometimes-volatile “5150” calls that involve people in the throes of mental illness.
But those officers are in short supply, and often they are unavailable in a crisis, as happened in Sacramento and the San Diego suburb of El Cajon, where police encountered men with mental problems and ended up shooting them to death.
Both cities would like to add additional resources but neither has the money.
“Funding for mental health services has been cut, and we are responding to more of those types of calls,” El Cajon police Lt. Rob Ransweiler said.
El Cajon, a city of 100,000, and Sacramento, the state capital with nearly half a million residents, each have a grand total of one mental health team that pairs a professional counselor and a specially trained officer.
“We can’t really expect that they can cover 100 square miles of the city 24/7. It’s been a very effective program, but it is limited by resources,” Sacramento police spokesman Matthew McPhail said.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nation’s largest grassroots mental health advocacy organization, estimates that only 3,000 of the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies have mental health response teams like those in Sacramento and El Cajon. The alliance is calling on more departments to adopt so-called crisis intervention teams, often called CITs.
“Even in cities where a CIT is in place, you have no guarantees,” said Ron Honberg, a researcher with the alliance known as NAMI. “But it’s always better to have the advanced training than not having it.”
In Sacramento, state grants pay for a specially trained officer and mental health professional who respond …