Los Angeles city and county officials Monday announced the start of a partnership to dispatch unarmed mental health responders to situations where they can help, rather than police officers or firefighters.
The government officials said the Therapeutic Transportation Pilot Program will greatly reduce the number of calls police and firefighters will have to handle, giving them more flexibility to respond to other more immediate emergencies.
Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore said the pilot program will be offered 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the city, with mental health vans stationed within each city council and county supervisor district.
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"I'm proud today to be standing here and seeing a rethinking of public safety, in America and here in Los Angeles,'' Moore said. "Rather than looking to yet another program for LAPD or (Los Angeles Fire Department) to engage in, it's pulling things off of our plate and putting them with our mental health professionals.''
The City Council on Oct. 14 approved a motion to partner with the county on the Therapeutic Transportation Pilot Program.
Crisis vans will be available at all times and staffed with mental health experts, and they will have access to psychiatric services through telemedicine, Moore said.
"Today we're talking about a new way to co-own public safety, which we know we have put such a burden on the shoulders of just our police departments too often, our fire departments too often,'' Mayor Eric Garcetti said. "This is a moment where we asked ourselves why do we only have 911 to call a police officer or firefighter at 2 a.m. when somebody is experiencing a mental health emergency? It's because that's the way we've collectively set that up.''
Garcetti said this has been a particularly stressful year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and mental health incidents may be driven by the current conditions, but he said Los Angeles could be the largest city in the U.S. with such a mental health pilot program.
"We're doing a much better job of aligning our resources and services to meet the demands of this time,'' said Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez, who chairs the council's Public Safety Committee.
LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said the fire department responds to an average of more than 1,000 calls for emergency medical services a day, and that number has been going up each year.
"When we first heard of this program we thought, 'There is a piece of the puzzle that would actually enhance patient care, would make firefighters and police officers more available for emergencies, and would help reduce local emergency room overcrowding,''' Terrazas said.