Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services to Launch Community Crisis Response this Spring

Long Beach Post, March 5 2023

This Spring, the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services will be launching a community crisis response to assist community healthy and safety. The team will not respond to any calls of violence, rather take on calls for public intoxication, trespassing, and welfare checks stated by city officials.

The Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services is launching a community crisis response team this spring, in an effort to improve community health and safety.

The specialized non-law-enforcement team will respond to eligible 911 calls for service with a focus on behavioral health and quality-of-life issues, explained collective impact bureau manager Erica Valencia-Adachi.

The program is a result of the Framework for Reconciliation, adopted by the Long Beach City Council in June 2020 following the murder of George Floyd, and will begin as a pilot, introduced only to the West Police Division—an area of almost 13 square miles that includes the Port of Long Beach, the region west of the 710 Freeway and a large portion of Central Long Beach.

While it is unclear exactly why the West Police Division was selected for the pilot program, “it gives us an opportunity to really focus on one area of the city to build that trust,” said resource connections division officer Christina Boatwright.

One-time funds of just over $2 million are allocated to the pilot program, which will support about 18 months of work, according to Valencia-Adachi.

“The hope is to get some structural funding moving forward,” Valencia-Adachi said.

Training for the response team, which consists of a crisis intervention specialist, who is a licensed clinical social worker, a public health nurse and a peer navigator who can provide case management and connection to other resources such as shelters, is currently underway ahead of its spring launch. While the program plans to launch in April, a specific date has yet to be determined.

The response team will also be supported by two Health Department staff members.

The pilot program will operate Monday through Friday to ensure an overlap in hours with community partners, although its specific hours are still unknown, said Boatwright and Valencia-Adachi.

The City of Long Beach has looked at similar programs across the country such as in Durham, North Carolina, and Eugene, Oregon, to develop a model that would be effective in Long Beach, and community input has played an important role in determining the details of the Long Beach program, Boatwright said.

Development of the program also included collaboration between agencies across the city, including representation from the City Manager, Equity and City Prosecutor’s offices, along with the Long Beach Police, Fire, Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Communications and Library Services departments.

During community listening sessions held throughout 2022, community members vocalized the importance of ensuring that crisis response team staff are from Long Beach or the surrounding area and understand the city’s diversity.

“That is who we’ve hired,” Boatwright said. “It was very important for our team to understand that.”

While the program was initially known as the Alternative Crisis Response Team, it is now the Community Crisis Response Team following community feedback, Boatwright said.

Ensuring that the team is fully trained before stepping foot into the community, including on de-escalation techniques and how to provide compassionate and trauma-informed care, was also a priority, Boatwright said.

According to Valencia-Adachi, the crisis response team will be a way to enhance public safety while implementing a public health approach.

“There’s still stigma around mental health and asking for help,” said Valencia-Adachi. “It takes a lot for somebody to reach out and ask for help, and so we want

to make sure that when people do, that we are responsive, and that we’re being as caring and compassionate as possible.”

According to Long Beach Police Department data, of 5,691 mental health-related calls made to the police in 2021, only 571 calls were considered a “violently mentally ill person,” while 5,120 were not considered violent. Complete data for 2022 was not available, but from 2012 to 2021, the number of mental health-related calls climbed each year.

While the team will be unable to respond to any calls involving violence, weaponry or medical emergencies, it will be able to provide care in times of crisis, including calls regarding public intoxication, possible trespassing and welfare checks, along with a connection to ongoing care.

Boatwright estimates that the team will be able to answer four or five calls per day, although it depends on the nature of each call, she said.

“But we’re also OK with one or two calls early on as we pilot this, so that we learn as we go to ensure that we’re providing the right types of support for callers,” Boatwright said.

Although Black people only make up about 12% of Long Beach’s population, from 2016 to 2019, 38% of the most serious uses of police force were against Black people, according to a statewide database.

A spokesperson for the Long Beach Police Department, though, said it is equipped to appropriately respond to mental health-related calls, citing mental health-related training and initiatives designed specifically to support and resolve calls involving a person experiencing a mental health crisis, such as a Mental Evaluation Team and Integrated Medical Response Program.

“We will always be open to working collaboratively with any service that provides our community members with the best possible care and support they need,” the spokesperson said in an email. “Ultimately, the effectiveness and impact of this new program will be determined by the outcomes achieved and feedback from the community.”