Less than a third of LAPD mental health calls are being handled by mental health professionals

Less than one-third of calls to the Los Angeles Police Department involving people experiencing a mental health crisis are being handled by a co-response team that includes a mental health clinician alongside a sworn officer, Police Chief Michel Moore told the Board of Police Commissioners Tuesday.

The LAPD instituted a program last year to dispatch a mental health response team to certain calls. The unit is known as the Systemwide Mental Assessment Response Team (SMART). Previously, SMART units were used as secondary responders.

Of more than 31,000 calls related to mental health that the department received since then, the SMART team was only able to respond to 10,000.

Moore said the department lacks the proper resources and staffing for all the requests. The LAPD is "at best" able to handle between 20% and 25% of calls related to mental health with the SMART team model, according to Moore.

"By no means are we handling even the majority of cases with those multidisciplinary teams," Moore said. "Those are resources that need to grow."

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Between January 2021 and August of this year, the department received 197 referrals of a "suicide by cop" incident, defined as an encounter when a person attempts to die by prompting a police officer to use lethal force.

Of the 131 cases reviewed by the department's Case Assessment and Management Program, 52 people were referred to the county's department of mental health for additional follow-up, 39 were voluntarily linked to services, 19 refused service, 10 were unable to be located, eight were diverted to mandated mental health programs through the court system, two remain open and one was conserved.

The SMART team, which currently has 76 of its 81 positions filled, is seeking to expand by another 19 positions in the next fiscal year, according to data presented at the meeting. The city's Department of Mental Health has also committed 38 clinicians toward the program.

More than 4,800 LAPD officers have completed a mental health intervention training course, a 40-hour course for officers who have the greatest likelihood of an interaction with people experiencing a mental health crisis.

Beginning in 2021, the LAPD also partnered with two outside agencies in diverting calls.

As of July 31, nearly 2,300 calls were diverted to Didi Hirsch for those in suicidal crisis or undergoing severe emotional distress. Some 1,239 calls were diverted to Urban Alchemy for people experiencing homelessness.