The Board of Supervisors Tuesday signed off on a plan by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and Riverside University Health System to expand behavioral health teams that can be deployed to assist in defusing situations involving mentally ill residents, or others who may need help finding treatment opportunities.
“We want more of these teams because they can help with heading off situations,” Undersheriff Dennis Vrooman told the board. “We’re not adding new law enforcement personnel. A lot of it is about counseling, providing services to people who may just be off their medication.”
The Community Behavioral Health Assessment Teams concept materialized last summer, following a board resolution expressing a desire for the sheriff and heads of municipal police agencies countywide to embrace the use of behavioral health specialists in resolving some emergencies.
Since then, CBATs have been established at the sheriff’s Moreno Valley and Murrieta stations, as well as the Hemet Police Department, the Indio Police Department, the Murrieta Police Department and the Riverside Police Department.
Under the program, licensed behavioral health counselors or nurses make themselves readily available to law enforcement officers to peacefully resolve calls for service, involving mentally ill patients or the homeless. In some cases, specialists respond with deputies or police officers to 911 calls, provided there are no immediate risks to safety.
“We may be able to get to the subjects and triage the situation in the field, saving a lot of time, money and resources,” Vrooman said.
He acknowledged the goal is, whenever possible, to keep mentally ill individuals or chronic substance abusers from landing in the correctional system. The preference is to divert them into treatment centers or hospitals, if that level of care is truly needed.
The teams are also available to interact with the homeless on an ongoing basis, offering assistance with finding services that might lead to placement in treatment programs and transitional housing, officials said.
With the board’s approval, RUHS will recruit nine additional specialists for future deployment with sheriff’s personnel at the Cabazon, Hemet, Jurupa Valley, Palm Desert, Perris and Thermal sheriff’s stations.
No general fund revenue will be required for the current expansion. The agency will instead rely on internal funds this fiscal year. However, Supervisor Kevin Jeffries noted that with the number of “holes and gaps” that will have to be filled by the teams, more funding may have to be allocated by the board in 2021-22.
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