San Jose mayor asks for new officers for specialized mental health response unit

San Jose city leaders are looking to make permanent a program which teams up mental health professionals with police officers.  The unit tries to deescalate what can be tense interactions and can result in better outcomes for those who need the help.

When police get called out in cases involving mental health – especially in circumstances that could be dangerous or violent -- it is just not just a quick response that matters but also how that response unfolds. 

"We know when responding to someone with a mental health episode out on the street it can go very wrong very fast if we don’t take the right approach," San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said on Monday. 

That’s why Liccardo, in his final budget message to the San Jose City Council, wants to make permanent a program where San Jose police officers work within a special unit called MCAT or the Mobile Crisis Assessment Team.

"Having a caring professional, who can we hope really significantly deescalate the situation, can be so essential to ensuring a safe outcome," Liccardo said. 

The MCAT officers undergo specialized training and also wear uniforms which are different than regular street officers. 

The partnership between SJPD, and Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Services, was initially founded in October of 2020 under a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.  

The grant funding is now running out so the mayor is calling for the council to approve four new, permanent, police officer positions to staff the team and expand the number of hours and days they work. 

"It is so critically important to have that first person who reaches somebody who is having a mental health episode to be a person who does not seem threatening, someone who is not carrying a gun, and somebody who does not have a badge and a uniform. That can really help to deescalate the situation," Liccardo said.

Sandra Hernandez, a licensed social worker, is the division director for Access and Crisis Services at the Santa Clara County Behavioral Services Department.  

She says the partnership model has been successful.  

"We let that be known we are not here to arrest you we are here to help you.  We want to help you, we want to support you through whatever crisis is that you are going through and we want to look for ways to divert you to something that will make sense to you to feel better," Hernandez said. 

The mayor’s final budget message will have a public hearing at San Jose City Hall Monday at 6 p.m. and will come up for a final vote at Tuesday’s regular city council meeting.