Ventura Police and Ventura County Behavioral Health (VCBH) helping out people with mental illness

Part 1 of 2
by Carol Leish, MA

Chief of Police Darin Schindler of Ventura Police Department said, “In my three plus decades in law enforcement, I’ve seen the evolution of mental health responses come full circle. Years ago, the police department was called out to assist mobile crisis teams when they needed help because someone was uncooperative after being placed on a 72-hour hold. Usually, we would standby to make sure no one got injured and they were able to safely transport the patient to a facility.”

“Over time that model slowly began to change; we were getting more calls to assist, and it seemed like a transition began with law enforcement being expected to be more directly involved and hands on. Fast forward to today and the police department has become the de facto first responders to many of these types of calls. Now we are the ones calling Ventura County Behavioral Health to ask for their assistance.”

Police Chief Schindler continued by saying, “We have trained the majority (close to 90%) of our officers in Crisis Intervention Training. More often than not, we are the first responders to situations when someone is suffering a mental health crisis, often when there is no underlying criminal component. We receive a dozen or so calls every day concerning mental health situations.

“When we receive a call regarding a potentially suicidal person, persons dealing with a mental health crisis, or calls about disturbances that involve someone experiencing a mental health episode of some sort, we also contact Ventura County Behavioral Health and ask for their assistance. In the last few years, especially with the social justice movement, there has been somewhat of a shift in the thinking the public questioning why aren’t Behavioral Health responders the first to respond.”

Sara Sanchez, LMFT, Division Chief for Access & Outreach Services at VCBH said, “The Crisis Team will respond with the police depending on the situation. It would be ideal to have a joint response, but the limiting factor is that the Crisis Team is county wide. This makes it responsible for responding to things in Fillmore to Simi, and everything in-between. The Crisis Team when fully staffed is at 28 people. They work every day of the year/24 hours a day. Currently there are 16 on staff. We are actively recruiting for more people to be on staff. The staff includes Registered Nurses, Licensed Social Workers, Licensed Marriage Family Therapists and Psychiatric Technicians.”

John Schipper, Ph.D., Division Chief for Adult Services for Ventura County Behavioral Health said, “There are two types of interventions that we do with the police. One is responding to crisis calls in the moment, such as, if someone is suicidal. The other type of call, which is not an emergency call, involves trying to engage people who may be homeless and struggling with mental illness and/or substance abuse issues. The RISE (Rapid Integrated Support & Engagement) Team partners with police and makes rounds throughout the county to engage people in treatment before a crisis arises.”

“In the past couple of years with the pandemic,” according to Dr. Schipper, “things were affected. First, it inhibited our (VCBH’s) ability to ride with police. We have started to see a recent easing of restrictions and more of an ability to meet in person. However, part of what the Crisis Team does is assessments of people in the ER of hospitals who may be suicidal, or a danger to others, Zoom helped out by making the process more efficient by eliminating the driving distances throughout Ventura County. The need for treatment, which both the Ventura County Behavioral Health and the various police and sheriff stations throughout Ventura County have been providing has been helping out people with mental illness.”

 Part 2 :  “Ventura Police and Ventura County training will be in the next issue.

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