The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office and county Department of Behavioral Wellness have been awarded $2,145,000 to staff and support two law enforcement mental health co-response teams.
The funding will be issued over a three-year period ($715,000 annually) and one or more co-response teams will serve North County, county officials announced Tuesday.
Staffing includes two crisis-intervention trained sheriff’s deputies and two clinician positions from Behavioral Wellness. The grant and grant operations will be overseen by Dr. Cherylynn Lee, behavior sciences unit manager for the sheriff’s office.
Last September, the sheriff’s office and Behavioral Wellness partnered to launch the co-response teams. It began as a pilot program to examine whether it would add value to existing practices. When the program was initially launched it was only authorized for one day every other week. There was so much use and success that the program was expanded to four days a week from Gaviota to Carpinteria, Dr. Lee said, adding that the program continued while funding was being sought.
Generally, co-response teams involve a sworn sheriff’s deputy who is partnered with a mental health or substance abuse professional. The team may include mobile crisis intervention teams, crisis outreach and support teams, according to officials.
The co-response teams offer value to law enforcement, county officials and the community at-large, Dr. Lee told the News-Press.
“We found that with the sheriff’s office, calls for folks who are suffering from mental illness take two to three times as long as calls for service that do not involve such patients,” Dr. Lee said.
By using co-response teams, the mental health experts are able to spend more time with the patient and provide a quicker and more accurate evaluation. The team can then take the patient to lower levels of treatment, such as crisis stabilization, a psychiatric health facility, walk-in clinic or a local hospital.
With the program, fewer patients suffering from mental illness end up in County Jail because there are more resources available, Dr. Lee said.
Santa Barbara County is the only county in the state that does not provide law enforcement with the authority to write 5150 holds, which would allow a person with a mental illness to be involuntarily detained for a 72-hour period. The implementation of co-response teams aims to address those concerns by having a clinician that has that authority.
“It’s nice to be managing a project that everybody in the community sees a benefit to,” Dr. Lee said.
Portions of the new funds will be distributed to UCSB, which is partnering with officials as a data analyst. Other grant partners include Marian Regional Medical Center, city of Goleta, the County Public Defender’s office, 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart’s office, FamiliesACT!, the National Alliance for Mental Illness, and Cottage Hospital.