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About Mental Health

Groups push to get additional San Jose-focused team of specialists to divert mental-health calls from police response.

SAN JOSE — A push to create an additional community-based response team for mental-health emergencies in San Jose has gotten a co-sign from three city councilmembers ahead of the council’s major budget hearing this week.

The Trusted Response Urgent Support Team, or TRUST, fields three-person teams consisting of a medic, behavioral-health professional and a peer-support advocate to respond to nonviolent psychiatric emergencies throughout Santa Clara County, which oversees the program.

Currently, there are four teams covering quadrants of the county: San Jose, Gilroy, the West Valley and North County. Architects and major supporters of the program, led by Silicon Valley De-Bug and including Showing Up for Racial Justice at Sacred Heart Community Service, have urged for the strategic expansion of the program.

“TRUST at its current funding level cannot meet the current demand for its services, especially in San Jose,” reads a statement from SURJ. “Already, TRUST is the most frequently utilized of the available alternate crisis response options in the county.”

Three San Jose city councilmembers have heeded the call. A memo posted ahead of Tuesday’s budget hearing, authored by Domingo Candelas, Sergio Jimenez and Peter Ortiz, requested the city manager’s office produce an estimate of what it would cost to field a third team. Any infrastructural change to the TRUST program would have to be instituted by the county.

“The County’s TRUST program has a proven track record of success,” the memo reads, adding that the program’s current bandwidth is “not equipped to handle the volume of calls coming from East, North and Central San Jose.”

De-Bug co-founder Raj Jayadev said his organization welcomes the support.

“It’s encouraging to see the San Jose City Council making this gesture for non-police crisis interventions for our community, particularly given the backdrop of their larger investments in policing, arresting, and incarceration as their go to answer to mental health needs,” Jayadev said in a statement.

But, he added, a true expansion of the program must also include the range of scenarios it is authorized to address. Under current protocols, psychiatric emergencies involving violence or safety threats necessitate police intervention; advocates contend that increasing and streamlining access to alternate-response programs help defuse situations before they reach that point.

“Right now, TRUST has limited itself to only being applied for what they consider ‘low-risk’ situations, leaving the rest of the vast majority of mental health crises vulnerable to police interaction and violence,” Jayadev said.

Supporters of the program point to a report published last fall showing that TRUST received the second-most referrals from the county’s 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which also included first-quarter 2023 data provided by TRUST that showed field teams were able to stabilize people in 72% of their dispatched calls without needing outside help. The program’s findings showed teams resolved more than 30% of their calls over the phone, and dispatched the field teams in 47% of calls.

A recent city-commissioned analysis of 911 calls in San Jose, covering January to September of last year, recommended that “the city should work in partnership with the county to identify opportunities to expand existing county alternate response services for mental health.” The analysis noted that “response teams for mental health events are also well-suited to respond to low-risk events involving unhoused individuals and substance abuse.”

The city report found that 58.5% of flagged mental-health calls did not result in a police report, another 7.5% were deemed unfounded, and that 911 calls involving unhoused people resulted in citations or arrests 24% of the time. Supporters of expanding TRUST say the figures for these two categories, which often overlap in common factors and scenarios, all corroborate the need for expanding programs to divert responses away from police officers.

They have also cited a news investigation published in October by the Bay Area News Group, KQED and the California Reporting Project that examined a decade of use-of-force records from San Jose police and concluded that people who are mentally impaired — either by psychiatric illness or intoxication — accounted for nearly three-quarters of serious use of force incidents and 80% of police killings. The investigation also highlighted broad trends of police encountering people exhibiting erratic behavior, without threats of violence, ending up experiencing serious force and injury.

County supervisors in December lent their support to establishing a direct line to TRUST for callers who want to bypass 988 triage when they specifically want a response from the program.

The general movement has garnered broad support from civil-rights groups: Monday, the ACLU national and Northern California chapters sent a joint letter to the city council echoing support for a San Jose expansion.

“San Jose over-relies on police to respond to calls that would be more effectively handled by a peer support worker or other behavioral health staff,” the letter reads. “Increasing the availability of TRUST teams will help community members with mental health disabilities receive the care they need in their most terrifying moments.”