The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office Crisis Intervention Team has been quite active in recent months.
From March through July, the Sheriff’s Office responded to 1,285 mental health calls. Of those, the co-response team was involved in 810, roughly 63%, though only 15 concluded with an arrest.
These were some of the statistics shared by Dr. Cherylynn Lee, psychologist and behavioral sciences manager for the Sheriff’s Office, during Tuesday’s Goleta City Council meeting.
Dr. Lee explained that the low number of arrests — as well as a reduction in use of force, are criteria that show the CIT is successful.
“We know that it’s working because of the low number of arrests,” she said. “We know that it’s working because of the reduced numbers of use as a force. We know that it’s working because families call us and cry their thanks for how we helped out their son or their daughter or their brother or their father.”
The co-response team works daily from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., which is why they cannot be involved in every call for service. When they do respond, the team seeks to achieve the best outcome for all parties involved.
“I listen to radio traffic as part of my job and they’re just always on the radio. There is a significant number of calls that they are handling and they are very proactive, and they are very busy.,” Dr. Lee said. “They work with families, they work with the National Alliance of Mental Illness, they attend community meetings and they’re very passionate about what they do.
“They had to volunteer for that position, they had to put in a letter of intent for the position, they went through an interview process, so they’re very motivated to work and affect change with these folks.”
Despite only being established as a full unit in 2018, the CIT has trained 1,000 people in its custody course. Of those, 657 are sworn law enforcement and all members of the Sheriff’s Office go through the eight-hour training. The CIT’s goal is to get everyone the full 40-hour training.
When councilmember Stuart Kasdin asked if the 40 hours were sufficient, Dr. Lee said she was confident that the current training offered by the department, as well as academy training, has worked well.
“I will say that in the academy, not related to CIT, the deputies are well trained in de-escalation and communication tactics and so this is an addition to that. What some counties have done is after a 40-hour class, they have a refresher class every few years for folks because laws change and tactics change,” Dr. Lee said.
“Like most skills, it could be considered a perishable skill so ongoing training is always a good thing and I don’t envision a system where that wouldn’t be the case.”
In the presentation, Dr. Lee also shared that in 2017, 2018, and 2019, 40% of all SBSO mental health calls came from the Goleta area.
While possibly alarming, she said that there is no real reason to suspect anything is wrong, she just attributes it to living in a bigger area.
“I think in more populated areas you’re going to get more calls, so that’s a reason. There are also more resources down in our area and so people are going to live nearby where they can have access to treatment and medications and care. It’s also where our jail is located, so when folks are released from jail they might stay around the area, and we get calls generated for those persons,” Dr. Lee said.
Mayor Paula Perotte asked Dr. Lee how the team goes about helping those who are resistant to treatment.
Dr. Lee acknowledged that this is a huge problem they encounter routinely, though they try to build a relationship with those who call for help to create a sense of comfort in case of future incidents.
“A lot of folks that we work with and deal with are treatment-resistant and so we hope that through the co-response teams we can build rapport,” Dr. Lee said. “A person can start to trust us more than they would just the next deputy that shows up and so that’s one way to attempt to deal with that issue.”