Action part of larger outreach effort from city officials to public.
The Belmont Police Department rolled out updated mental health crisis policies in response to calls from the public for better responses to mental health incidents as part of a Public Safety Subcommittee public outreach meeting Wednesday night.
Citizens spoke about the need to reconsider how police officers in Belmont and around the country deal with mental health situations and policy decisions. Speakers wanted details about what kind of training Belmont officers receive when responding to mental health crises and how they determine appropriate mental health policy. They asked the City Council to consider if police should respond to mental health emergencies and if the city should instead send mental health professionals who can better handle those situations. Members of the public asked that police and the council include them in policy decision making as they did not feel part of that process.
Belmont Police Chief Tony Psaila said the department has started improving its responses to mental health incidents by introducing a Crisis Assessment, Response and Education team, or C.A.R.E. The team is educated in social services, child psychology, crisis negotiations and mental health incidents. The department also has Crisis Intervention Training for officers and improved follow-up with families after mental health incidents to ensure people receive help.
Psaila said since Oct. 10, the C.A.R.E. team has handled 16 mental health calls that led to positive results. Psaila is hopeful the team will be an integral part of mental health response.
“The families were very appreciative of the resources that we provided and the information that they were receiving and the follow-up procedures that came after the initial contact,” Psaila said.
Psaila said San Mateo County is also improving its response to mental health calls by introducing a new pilot program into the police departments of Daly City, San Mateo, South San Francisco and Redwood City. The pilot program embeds a mental health clinician with officers throughout the week. Psaila said the program might eventually extend to other police departments throughout the county like Belmont.
Psaila said the department is re-examining policies and rewriting unclear aspects to ensure the public understands police policies and what to expect from officers. The department is adding more quarterly activity statistics to its transparency page on total incidents, total collisions, arrests, mental health calls and use of force calls.
The Public Safety Subcommittee started in June in response to the death of George Floyd and the recognition that Belmont needed to review its own policing methods. The subcommittee includes Belmont councilwomen Davina Hurt and Julia Mates and meets twice a month to review police policy. The subcommittee worked with the police department to examine its policy and improvement areas. The subcommittee has had public outreach and a public session in July to gather information.
Hurt said that the council is committed to working with the local community to build bridges, improve relationships and share new ideas.
“I want folks to know that as we move forward, there’s much we need to figure out and we acknowledge and respect that people have different ideas and sensitivities. But in order to chart a new path forward, we are going to work with one another and listen,” Hurt said.
“Councilmember Hurt and I are still committed to taking in information from the community. We want to continue to learn, so tonight is part of that,” Mates said at the meeting.
There are no deadlines for the subcommittee to change policies, as they want to make the best decision possible. The subcommittee is examining the Bias-Based Policing Policy and the Use of Force Policy first because of public interest and potential issues in the future.