The San Diego Association of Governments recently released the results of a study that showed calls to San Diego County police agencies involving mental-health issues increased by a astounding 84 percent from 2009 to 2015. Sheriff deputies from the Fallbrook substation probably weren’t surprised by the findings.
The Fallbrook command handled an average of 134 “5150/Mental Disorder” calls per year from 2011 to 2015, according to statistics prepared by Sheriff’s Analysis Group, Vista station. Through June 21 of this year, there had been 66 such calls.
Lt. David Gilmore, commander of the Fallbrook Sheriff’s substation, said all San Diego County sheriff deputies are trained to deal with mental illness.
“We had seen an increase (in calls) to the point – several years ago now – the Sheriff’s Dept. demanded that every patrol deputy get eight hours of specific PERT (psychiatric emergency response team) training,” said Gilmore. “That was to ramp them up on the program so they would understand more about mentally ill people. So they could look at some of the mannerisms.”
Gilmore is hoping to get more help for his command in the form of a PERT Team, which pairs a uniformed officer or deputy with a licensed mental health clinician. PERT Teams respond on-scene to situations involving people who are experiencing a mental health related crisis. The PERT Team’s goal is “to provide the most appropriate resolution to the crisis by linking people to the least restrictive level of care and to help prevent the unnecessary incarceration or hospitalization of those seen.”
San Diego County has increased the number of PERT Teams in recent years in response to the rise in mental health calls.
“We recently have been working on getting a PERT clinician assigned to this unincorporated area up here in north county, Fallbrook and Valley Center,” said Gilmore. “For the longest time, they’ve all be assigned to cities. I’ve offered a deputy up to work with the clinician to staff it. We’ve offered to be a participant in it fully, and our command is fully supportive.”
Gilmore said a PERT Team is a great asset to have.
“Not only will they be able to go out on those calls, but they’ll be able to do follow-ups a couple of days later to make sure the people got the resources that they were trying to hook them up with,” said Gilmore. “Or, if somebody got released from their 72-hour hold and are now back in the community, they can touch base with them. They can do psychological emergency interjection before it becomes a problem.”
Gilmore said deputies deal with a large spectrum of people in responding to 5150 calls, from teenagers on up.
“There’s a broad range, from the person who is physically violent to others, hurting themselves or threatening suicide,” said Gilmore. “There’s the person that is not able to talk, let’s say they’re catatonic on a bus bench. They may have a medical issue, number one, which we need to address too. And they may have some psychological imbalance going, where they’re not hurting anyone else, they’re just not able to care for their own safety.
“You see people who have a hiccup in life that causes them to want to committee suicide or threaten to commit suicide,” continued Gilmore. “You have the person whose actually having some severe psychological issues, not just a periodic thing that happened, but something chronic. You see people that are chemically induced or having flashbacks.”
Gilmore said many calls are prompted by a familiar scenario.
“There’s a common theme of drug use with a number of calls,” said Gilmore. “Because some of these drugs don’t work well if someone’s trying to maintain their mental health with their medications. We’re finding that some of this really concentrated cannabis has more reactions than we thought. The methamphetamines, those things don’t work with your medication. And alcohol isn’t working with medications. All of these things we are finding to be more of a complication.”
Gilmore said the most important thing in dealing with a 5150 call is trying to get people help.
“There are people that have mental illness that having nothing to do with drugs or PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder),” said Gilmore. “They’re mentally ill. They’re not in balance, their medications aren’t working, or something is just wrong, and it’s really heartbreaking. They live amongst us and they need help.”