Santa Rosa’s inRESPONSE mental health crisis team a ‘new model’ for police alternatives, city leaders say
After its first month in operation, Santa Rosa's behavioral health emergency response team appears to be setting itself apart as a model for successfully providing help to those in the community affected by mental illness.
Between Jan. 11 and Jan. 31, the inRESPONSE team was dispatched to emergencies relating to medical issues, suicide, homelessness, substance use, minor crimes and mental health, according to preliminary data.
Its crew, which consists of a licensed clinical social worker, a firefighter paramedic and a homeless outreach coordinator who ride in a visibly marked van, was able to divert a total of 70 calls away from the police department during this soft launch period.
"I think we’re off to a great start,“ said City Councilman Tom Schwedhelm on Wednesday during the Santa Rosa City Council’s Public Safety Subcommittee meeting. ”This is a community-wide issue. We need a community-wide approach.“
One-time, acute crisis response is just one service inRESPONSE provides, at a cost of $1.1 million this year. Another innovative element, according to city leaders, is the “system navigators” who provide long-term, wraparound support to members of the community before and after mental health crises.
The system navigators, who are staffed by local nonprofits Buckelew Programs and Humanidad Therapy and Education Services, not only follow up after emergency incidents, but also operate a non-emergency hotline anyone can call to find outside resources and services.
This component of the inRESPONSE program is “very unique,” according Shannon Scully, senior adviser on criminal justice policy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
“Santa Rosa is doing something that’s spot on in terms of what we see as best practices,” Scully said, because continual care ensures “you’re providing that connection to resources before the moment of crisis, as well as long after to help someone remain engaged.“
The navigators, who speak English and Spanish, can connect callers with Sonoma County Behavioral Health, local community health centers, housing resources and food banks, said Buckelew team leader Katie Swan. They can also educate people on mental health topics, drop off their medication and drive them to doctor’s appointments.
Since the launch, staff have both taken calls and met community members at coffee shops or at their homes, sometimes on multiple occasions.
“Our goal is to be able to work with individuals and families to develop their own safety net and have a community that supports them,” said Swan.
The system navigators were an “investment” by the city to adequately address the extent of behavioral health needs in Santa Rosa, according to Capt. John Cregan, who has spearheaded the planning and implementation of inRESPONSE in the police department.
“Our program is more expensive, but by lord, it’s more expansive,” Cregan said Thursday. “You don’t see programs that have such holistic, in-depth wraparound services. That’s what makes this so unique.”
Cregan, who will become interim head of the Santa Rosa Police Department after current Chief Ray Navarro retires in May, said he expects inRESPONSE will become “the new model for California.”
He was invited to give a presentation on the program at the annual California Police Chiefs Association conference in Sacramento earlier this month.
Representatives from the Pleasanton Police Department visited the inRESPONSE team Wednesday, Cregan said, and the Alameda and San Bruno departments have also reached out.
“For a lot of folks in crisis who need this assistance, the issue is not criminal. It’s not one that can be resolved by the criminal justice system,” Scully, the NAMI senior adviser, said. “This is an opportunity to have a first responder who responds with care and treatment.”
The team intends to measure success by how many calls inRESPONSE is able to divert from the police and fire departments, as well as how many people are diverted from emergency rooms and the county jail.
These stats will be presented at quarterly community meetings, starting April. Those meetings will also be an opportunity for members of the public to share comments on inRESPONSE.
“What we want to do is continue to get that community feedback to not only push out information, but most importantly receive feedback on how this team can be better,” Cregan said.
The city also has hopes of expanding the program. Currently, there are two providers who fill each of the roles and a single, branded van that only operates between noon and 10 p.m. daily.
By May, officials anticipate they will add another van to the fleet and roll out an expanded schedule of 15-hour days. They are aiming to run inRESPONSE 24/7 by the end of 2022 — with a goal of diverting 5,000 calls from the police.
Santa Rosa is also considering ways inRESPONSE can partner with nearby jurisdictions.
“This is undoubtedly a new, enhanced level of service, but we don’t want it to be confined just to Santa Rosa,” Cregan said. “We want to expand this team countywide.”
You can reach Staff Writer Emily Wilder at 707-521-5337 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @vv1lder.