One-third of police shootings in Santa Clara county involve mentally ill

A new report from the seated Santa Clara County grand jury finds the mentally ill have an alarming and tragic interaction with law enforcement. County mental health experts say the problem centers on who makes first contact in a crisis situation. Too often, it’s a police officer – there to uphold the law – but now forced to handle a mental health crisis situation.

“We’re launching mobile crisis teams in Santa Clara County for adults,” said Toni Tullis, the Santa Clara County behavioral health services director.

She plans to increase the current mobile team’s size by 25-percent. That’s one of the recommendations in the 16-page report, “Police and the Mentally Ill – Improving Outcomes.” Compiled by the current Santa Clara County Grand Jury, it finds of the 31 deadly officer-involved shootings from 2013 to 2017, one-third involved individuals suffering from mental illness. That was the case in January 2018, when a sword-wielding man approached two officers and refused to drop his weapon, forcing police to fire.

“We’ve closed our state mental hospitals and the individuals have to find treatment for limited resources – more limited resources. And so there’s more individuals who are gonna likely come into confrontation with police officers,” said Henry Oberhelman III, the grand jury spokesman.

He says the report issued three main recommendations for improving such outcomes, including the funding of additional mobile crisis units, beyond what the county already has in place.

“Those teams go out and they’re able to deflect or de-escalate a situation right on the spot,” said Tullis, citing successes seen in a pilot program in San Diego County.

Also, additional crisis intervention training for all police officers. San Jose’s police chief says his department is already offering that training. But to date, only half of the department’s roughly one-thousand officers have gone through the training.

“For the longest time it was not a mandatory training that we had to take here. And I made a commitment when I became chief that the entire department would be trained in crisis intervention training. And so with that goal in mind, the training class are going to have to be a little bigger so that I can get as many officers as I can through the academy until we have this entire department trained,” said San Jose police chief Eddie Garcia.

The chief estimates that will be done by the end of the decade. The additional crisis intervention teams from the county could be on the streets before the end of Summer.