On Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a measure to expand the Mental Evaluation Team (MET) partnership between the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH) and Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD), which will enhance outcomes when sheriff’s deputies engage with people suffering from mental illness or crisis.
Once fully funded and staffed, the expansion will more than double the program’s current capacity in responding to incidents involving people with mental health issues. It will do so by increasing co-deployed mental evaluation teams— consisting of a mental health clinician and a sheriff’s deputy—from 10 to 23 and establishing a specialized call center to handle and triage 911 calls involving mental illnesses or traumas.
The measure was co-sponsored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Kathryn Barger, with support from leadership of multiple county departments, including a prominent role by LACDMH to provide subject matter expertise and funding to support the initiative.
Per Jonathan E. Sherin, M.D., Ph.D., the new Director of Mental Health, “Our investment in MET expansion is a key tactic in supporting a constructive interface between peace officers and those suffering from serious mental illness, as well optimizing our redirection of such individuals away from incarceration toward treatment environments. Both goals are high priority for us because we, as a county, aim to infuse additional humanity into every way we address mental health issues. This stands in contrast to the historically fear and stigma driven methods that benefit no one, drive poorer outcomes and create a greater financial burden to the public.”
“Partners from LASD and the Department of Mental Health consistently offer compassionate care . . . to apply deescalation techniques to help ease some of the most difficult, complex and high-risk situations patrol deputies face daily,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell. “This is an opportunity for us to be able to step up and do what’s right, do what’s compassionate and make much more effective use of resources than we’ve been able to do in the past.”
Additionally, the Los Angeles County District Photo courtesy of D.A. Jackie Lacey’s office. Attorney’s Office had suggested expanding MET program in a 2015 Mental Health Advisory Board Report, a recommendation that District Attorney Jackie Lacey has reiterated after a MET program briefing and ride-along with Dr. Sherin on Jan. 6.
“These teams play an invaluable role in maintaining the safety of both the person in a mental health crisis and the officers during what otherwise might become a contentious and, potentially, deadly incident,” District Attorney Lacey said. “They also save taxpayer money by diverting non-violent offenders from jails to more appropriate settings that provide mental health services.”
The motion also received support from mental health advocates and organizations, including the Los Angeles chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
“I cannot emphasize enough the difference it makes for a family dealing with a mental health crisis to receive a response from a co-deployed mental health and law enforcement team,” said Brittney Weissman, executive director of NAMI’s Los Angeles County Council. “The peace of mind, the hope for recovery and our confidence in the system skyrockets when we see MET arrive compared to a law enforcement only team.”
The LASD/LACDMH Mental Evaluation Team (MET) pairs a mental health clinician with a law enforcement officer on a fulltime basis. The program was the first of its kind in the nation, established for the purpose of responding to 911 calls involving a psychiatric crisis or a critical incident. The program was developed in pilot form in Oct. 1991. Based on the success of the pilot the Board of Supervisors approved funding in July 1992 for four field teams and one supervisory team. LACDMH and LASD then developed a 40-hour cross training for the clinicians and deputies to better understand the nexus between the different organizational cultures and the populations they serve. The first night of MET service was Jan. 31, 1993. The mission of the MET is to:
- Provide a rapid and compassionate response at the time and place the crisis is occurring.
- Avoid hospitalizations and/or arrests whenever possible.
- Decompress County emergency rooms and jails by getting the person to the appropriate care as quickly as possible.
- De-escalate violent confrontations between law enforcement and persons with mental illness.
Although the first MET was established in 1993, the program has expanded very little over the last two decades. In 1996, Supervisor Antonovich used discretionary funds to establish one additional team for the Antelope Valley. The next expansion occurred in 2015 when three additional teams were established in the North County.
The program has been awarded the Productivity & Quality Award, the National Association of County Organizations Award and the Extra Miles Award at the annual Mental Illness and Law Enforcement Seminar. In Fiscal Year 2015-16, the MET program responded to 1,154 calls for service, with 64% resulting in hospitalizations for mental health treatment and less than 1% resulting in an arrest.