New Mental Health Units Respond to Threats at LAUSD Schools

A new team of mental health evaluators are responding to assess threats at Los Angeles schools

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Looking nothing like old-school police patrols, new mental health units travel in unmarked cars, wear Polos, and carry computers to gather information about a person making a threat at Los Angeles Unified schools.

There are eight new mental health units evaluating and responding to threats at LAUSD schools.

"Every threat is credible; every threat is real," said Sgt. Joseph Ivankay, who evaluates the credibility of school threats and oversees eight mental health evaluation teams created two years ago, after the Parkland School shootings.

It's a new way of operating, to determine if counseling and medical assistance are better alternatives than traditional arrests, he said.

Tony Beliz, who helped start the Los Angeles County school threat assessment response team over a decade ago, says most school shootings create an after-action report which details all the elements that led up to the incident.

Beliz says there are very often warning signs that were overlooked.

"The after-action report identifies a whole list of things that people can then say, well no wonder," he says. The goal is to identify these warning signs and act on them, adding school districts in general are often slow to respond to red flags.

He showed NBC4 a drawing from a student who had thoughts of hurting himself and was given counseling and other treatment. Information and any responses to threats should be shared with parents, especially as rumors can easily spread, he said.

"Rumors will make things much harder than what they need to be," he said.

LAUSD police say case management teams were added last year to handle more severe situations. Detectives check in with family and school staff, visit homes and even go to court with the student, long after a threat occurs.

"I don't wake up in the morning thinking about taking a teenager to jail," said Sgt. Rudy Perez. "Our heart is how do we get kids to graduate safely across the stage."

Ivankay says with teams reaching out instead of reacting, they hope to reduce the risk of school shootings.

"I really see a whole shift in how we deal with juvenile crime in the future," he said.

While the goal is to intervene when possible, serious cases are sent to prosecutors.

The LA County District Attorney's Office said they began tracking school shooting threat cases in February 2018. Since then 149 have been presented to the DA. Some 115 criminal charges were filed, or 77% of the cases presented.

Juvenile cases are confidential, so the outcomes are not made public.

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