Santa Rosa’s inRESPONSE team marks one year responding to crisis calls
Brady Kellogg hadn’t been able to sleep in weeks and his memory was foggy.
The 46-year-old had gone to visit family in Seattle last August and suffered a seizure while at the grocery store, slamming his head on the concrete, he said.
He began to feel anxious when he returned to Sonoma County, where he was living in his car with his chihuahua, Benni. He sought medical help to no avail, he said, and turned to alcohol to help cope.
“I felt manic,” he said.
The episode eventually led to run-ins with law enforcement before he was connected with Santa Rosa’s civilian inRESPONSE team.
The team, comprised of a licensed behavioral health clinician, paramedic and an outreach specialist from Catholic Charities, provided Kellogg with a mental health evaluation and follow-up care.
“It was scary when I didn’t know if I was going to have another fit,” he said. “InRESPONSE saw me when I was in my dark spot and they were patient and compassionate and helped me calm down instead of picking me up off the street and throwing me in the back of a police car.”
The team specializes in providing a more targeted response to mental health, substance use and homeless services calls than might be had from traditional first responders, including firefighters and police officers.
The civilian mobile support team has been dispatched to more than 2,800 calls since it hit the streets last January, helping divert hundreds of calls away from police and fire and connect people with health and social services, according to a recent data snapshot from the city.
The team also is reaching people that otherwise may not have called for help, said Santa Rosa Police Chief John Cregan, who as a captain spearheaded the initiative.
“It took a lot to get off the ground but overall we’re ecstatic with the success of this team and all of the momentum we have going into year two,” he said.
The Santa Rosa program was first envisioned in 2020 in the wake of local and national protests against police brutality and amid rising calls for mental health and homeless services. It’s modeled after the Eugene, Oregon, program called CAHOOTS.
Annual operations, equipment and training cost $2 million and are paid for through a mix of federal and local funds.
Two vans are currently in operation, providing 15 hours of service Monday through Thursday and 10 hours the rest of the week.
The city hopes to expand operations round the clock this year with the goal of diverting 5,000 calls from law enforcement annually.
Most calls for service related to mental health
The team was dispatched to 2,893 calls between Jan. 11, 2022, and Jan. 11, 2023, according to data shared through the city by inRESPONSE.
InRESPONSE didn’t provide services on all dispatched calls.
Sometimes people refused assistance from the team and in other cases the calls were canceled once en route, Program Director Katie Swan said.
Mental health services were the primary service on 1,284 calls, the bulk of calls where the team did provide aid.
About 550 of the calls, or 24%, were related to homeless services.
The team responds to the majority of calls on its own but can respond jointly with police or wait nearby until officers ensure the scene is safe, Swan said.
The data showed the program helped divert 1,762 calls from police and 677 calls from fire service.
Cregan said such calls used to tie up police and fire resources. InResponse has allowed officers to focus on other emergencies.
In addition to diversion efforts, the team provides more specialized care to residents.
Clinicians have a bachelor’s or master’s degree, 3,000 hours of clinical work in the field and are certified by the state Board of Behavioral Sciences. That’s compared to just eight hours of related training officers receive in the police academy, Cregan said.
Swan knows firsthand the importance of having specialized professionals assist during a mental health call. Swan, who is queer and uses the pronoun they, said they have children with mental health challenges and there have been situations when the children need help beyond what the family can provide.
Calling law enforcement for help during a crisis can be a difficult choice, Swan said.
“One of the hardest things for families to do is to call law enforcement when their person is struggling,” Swan said. “Having a team that can offer the appropriate service at the appropriate time is important.”
The team is trained on how to spot someone who is in crisis and de-escalate the situation. Members spend time talking with the individual or family members, understanding what led to the crisis, and will conduct a mental health assessment and plan out next steps, rather than addressing just the current emergency and rushing off to another call.
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