Deputies with the Fallbrook Sheriff’s substation have experienced a significant increase in calls relating to individuals displaying behaviors associated with mental disorders in 2013 and the first quarter of 2014. But the increase in these situations isn’t limited to Fallbrook, it is on the upswing throughout San Diego County.
“Fallbrook and all of the Sheriff’s other jurisdictions have seen a dramatic increase in these types of calls,” said Lt. Todd Richardson, commander of the Fallbrook Sheriff’s substation. “It’s kind of the nature of our times. There’s been less and less funding for mental health issues. With the prison realignment issue, a good number of these individuals with mental problems (many due to drug use) are being released back into the population.”
According to the criminal intelligence analysis division of the Sheriff’s Dept., in the Fallbrook command, there were 134 of these types of calls/contacts by deputies here in 2011. That number slightly decreased in 2012 to 131, but rose sharply by 17 percent to 148 in 2013 and looks to increase another 16 percent in 2014 if statistics from the first quarter are any indication.
“It’s something we take very seriously, because there is an extreme danger to our deputies in responding to these calls,” said Richardson. “We now have mandated training to keep deputies up-to-date on how to handle people with mental health issues; in handling a psychological emergency this includes the importance of using less lethal weapons, like bean bags, taser, etcRichardson said while some citizens complain about the use of these devices, when these individuals are endangering themselves or others, “that’s the only safe way to deal with them.” According to the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) Criminal Justice Research Division, between 2008 and 2013 in the region’s four largest law enforcement agencies – the Sheriff’s Dept. and the San Diego, Chula Vista, and Oceanside Police Departments – there was an overall 55 percent increase in calls for service involving people who pose a danger to themselves or to others due to a mental health crisis. Countywide, the total number of calls jumped from 14,442 in 2008 to 22,315 in 2013.
One of the most volatile situations officers encounter is when a mentally unstable individual is intent on suicide.
“Since there is a tie between suicide and 5150/mental disorder calls, we have seen an increase in those as well,” said Richardson. “Throughout the county, we will have individuals who say ‘you have to kill me; I won’t come out.’ These people try to force the issue, but our SWAT team has done a good job of talking them out.”
Given the increase in these calls, authorities admit a growing amount of law enforcement resources in the region are being consumed by the increase in mental health calls.
Countywide, SANDAG listed the reasons for the increase in mental disorder calls as follows:
• Limited resources from the state to address mental health conditions
• The public’s expectation that officers and deputies respond to mental health crises
• An increase in independent living facilities which provide housing to individuals with mental health issues, but are not licensed and managed by the state
• Stressful economic conditions
• The release of non-violent offenders from detention facilities who may have mental health issues.
Richardson added perhaps the most significant reason. “They aren’t keeping the drug-related cases in jail as long as they used to,” he said.
In Fallbrook, Richardson said he would encourage residents to “err on the side of caution,” when deciding whether to call the Sheriff’s Dept. for assistance regarding someone with possible mental issues.
“We would prefer to have people call us and let us come out and evaluate the situation; our deputies are trained to screen these situations,” he said. “These cases can become volatile real quickly. If a person gets a suspicious feeling, they should call us. We may be able to get the person some help.”