More than a dozen more Los Angeles County Sheriff Department Mental Evaluation teams, or MET teams, hit the streets of the county this week.
MET teams, which partner a Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health clinician with a sheriff's deputy, are requested by other deputies or other law enforcement who arrive at a scene and find a person dealing with a mental health crisis.
The department says these types of calls that have resulted in "involuntary holds" by the LASD, where patients are considered a danger to themselves or others, have increased 72% over the last three years.
In 2015, the MET unit was comprised of just five mental health mobile co-response teams. The department said the teams were underfunded and unable to cover all 4,700 square miles of the county over the past two decades.
Last year, the Civilian Oversight Commission recommended a minimum of 60 MET units for the county and the Board of Supervisors approved an expansion, according to a Mental Evaluation Team Progress Report for fiscal year 2018-19.
This week, the number of MET units jumped to 29, working 20 hours a day. Additional units planned will allow for 24 hour, 7 day a week coverage in the future.
New specialized vehicles for use by the MET teams are now available and include:
- plexiglass to reduce possible injuries;
- plastic meshing instead of metal grating inside to remove the feeling of claustrophobia;
- air conditioning in the back of the vehicle because heat can escalate a situation;
- extra trunk storage to transport property for the individuals being transported.
"We are giving them a chance, rather than putting them in jail," said Sanjay Shah with the Mental Health Department.
According to the department, in the last fiscal year, 2018-19, there was a reduction of use of force incidents because of the intervention of MET teams.
"We have seen 672 uses of force that never happened in the first place because MET unit was able to get there on scene," said sheriff's Lt. John Gannon.
Force means any amount of resistance from applying handcuffs to being involved in a shooting, he adds.
The reduction in uses of force last year saved the county more than $4 million, according to the progress report.
Deputies with MET teams have over 1,000 hours of training within the first three years.
"They are absolutely exceptional at de-escalating patients, getting them to cooperate, talking them down, slowing down the situation, which is kind of the opposite of police training for the most part in the past," Gannon said.