A South Bay police department is taking a major step forward to try to change people's minds about how police deal with the mentally ill.
The San Jose Police Department in response to community concerns is teaming up with a county program officers said they hope will help. It is part of training some officers will participate in a one-year, twice-a-week pilot program covering mental health and de-escalation training.
"Sometimes it takes a lot to get through to them, but I have time, and that's why I'm doing it," SJPD Officer Emerald Perkins said. "Because I truly believe we can make a difference."
The Santa Clara County Mobile Crisis Response Team said it has always worked with law enforcement. The big difference now is it will not just be whatever officer is available, but a trained, prepared officer.
Still, the police watchdog group Silicon Valley DeBug is skeptical.
"Police officers that are dressed differently, they may have been trained differently. (They) are still police officers and because of that we think there is an inherent danger," said Raj Jayadev with the Silicon Valley DeBug. "That's why we have to be completely separated. Completely disentangled from law enforcement in responding to mental health calls."
SJPD Chief Eddie Garcia strongly disagrees.
"Many times these individuals, whether on a bridge and they're about to jump or doing things like that where a police officer comes up, it's their tone," Garcia said. "It's the way they talk to people that's important. That's always important."
Garcia said he is not sure how much the program will expand or evolve in the future. But one thing is for sure -- there is going to be a lot of people monitoring the progress.