Mental health related phone calls to San Diego law enforcement up 84 percent

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — Calls to law enforcement in San Diego regarding mental health issues have risen 84 percent over the past six years, the San Diego Association of Governments reported Monday.

In 2009, there were more than 17,000 such calls, according to SANDAG’s Criminal Justice Research Division. By 2015, the total was up to 31,700 after a steady annual climb in the number of mental health incidents.

SANDAG said the figures don’t include calls to police for other reasons, but for which mental illness was later found to be an underlying cause.

Law enforcement representatives told SANDAG that reasons for the climb include increased drug use, greater public awareness of mental health issues, a growing number of people with such problems but no stable residence, fewer programs to help patients, a jump in the number of people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and legislative changes that resulted in incarcerated people being released and no longer taking medication.

Mental health calls can be challenging for law enforcement and tie up resources, according to SANDAG. Some jurisdictions require two officers to respond to those types of calls and extra time is usually needed for evaluation.

Officers also respond repeatedly to calls regarding the same individual, the report said.

Law enforcement representatives told SANDAG that they need more specially trained Psychiatric Emergency Response Teams, more intensive case management services available to assist those with persistent severe mental illness, expanded psychiatric services in hospital emergency departments, more programs and beds for those with mental health needs, better law enforcement training and quicker access to psychiatric evaluations for medication, among other things.

Citing figures from the county Health and Human Services Agency, the SANDAG report said 25 percent of adults in the area face a mental health challenge, and one in five children experience emotional or behavioral difficulties.