As part of a pilot program that rethinks some responsibilities traditionally handled by police, a community crisis response team run out of the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services has started responding to some 911 calls related to behavioral health and quality-of-life issues.
During a press conference Monday, city officials said the program, which began July 12, will focus on West Long Beach and along the Anaheim corridor—locations that were selected based on data collected from the emergency call center in 2020 and 2021 indicating an increased need.
The team will respond to calls from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, although the time frames or hours could be adjusted based on need, according to Long Beach Health Department Director Kelly Colopy.
While unable to respond to any calls involving violence, weapons or medical emergencies, the team will be able to provide in-field services ranging from crisis intervention support, de-escalation, general health education and suicide assessment. Eligible calls can also include public intoxication, an unwelcome person, welfare checks and disturbances.
Additionally, the team can help provide basic-need items, resource navigation and referral support to various city and county services, Colopy said. In the fall, the team will begin to offer transportation to appropriate resources such as mental health urgent care centers, housing services and the Multi-Service Center, which is Long Beach’s hub for homeless services.
To access support from the team, anyone experiencing or witnessing a mental health crisis can call the non-emergency line 562-435-6711 (or 911 for a potentially life-threatening emergency), and dispatch will determine the appropriate unit to respond, whether it is the response team, police, or fire. Community members cannot request the crisis response team directly.
The idea for the community crisis response team (formerly known as the Alternate Crisis Response Team, or ACR) stemmed from the Racial Equity and Reconciliation Initiative, adopted by the Long Beach City Council in June 2020 following the murder of George Floyd.
While the Long Beach Recovery Act, which allocated a total of $3.6 million for violence prevention and safe cities programs, provided the kickoff funding, and the general fund supported the 18-month pilot, the program has not received any ongoing dollars at this point, Colopy said.
“We will be working closely with the Department of Mental Health at the county level and other resources,” to identify additional funding opportunities, she said.
The non-law enforcement team has been trained and is well-equipped with “a deep understanding of mental health issues, de-escalation techniques, and trauma-informed care, which better equips them to handle crisis situations with empathy and skill,” Colopy said.
The team is composed of three in-field responders—a crisis intervention specialist, a public health nurse, and a peer navigator—in addition to a program manager and team supervisor who can provide supplemental support and consultation. The team estimates it will be able to respond to three or four calls each day.
Colopy noted that the program is not specifically geared toward people experiencing homelessness, unlike the city’s REACH team, which also includes a public health nurse and a mental health clinician. However, the agencies are “coordinating, and they are talking and they’re doing everything they can to leverage each other’s skill sets as well,” she said.
The team will not operate as a co-response model, meaning that they will not show up with police, Colopy said. However, they will be communicating through dispatch if the needs of the call exceed the response team’s scope of service, and the team can also be requested as an additional resource by responding police or fire units.
City leadership emphasized that the team works in partnership with the police, fire, and public safety departments.
Not only will the new initiative better serve people in mental health crises, it will also reduce the burden on the city’s other emergency response services, said Mayor Rex Richardson.
“Today, we’re taking a bold step toward change,” Richardson said. “This new journey will redefine how the city addresses crisis response.”
This pilot program has been “a long time coming” for West Long Beach, an area where there is a need for a program such as this, said Councilmember Roberto Uranga.
According to Richardson, Long Beach has to expand its ability to respond when an emergency happens.
“Government should continue to innovate and find new ways to make a difference in the lives of people—I think that’s what local government should do, government should help people,” Richardson said.
Richardson said the pilot program is “one step toward localizing mental health services and support in our community.”
Colopy said programs like this have been shown to reduce arrests and jail recidivism in people experiencing mental illness and also improve access to mental health services in a cost-efficient way.
“This is exciting new territory for us, and we’re so excited to take it on,” she said.