By Emily Rasmussen
Full Article: https://www.ocregister.com/2021/03/24/oc-sheriffs-department-announces-news-bureau-to-focus-on-mental-health/
Date: March 24, 2021
“The Orange County Sheriff’s Department has formed a new bureau that will focus on mental health calls and helping homeless people, while working alongside health professionals, Sheriff Don Barnes announced Wednesday, March 24.
The Behavioral Health Bureau has nearly 60 deputies who have experience working with the homeless population, Barnes said, and will get an additional 80 hours of training that will focus on behavioral health and crisis intervention. The deputies also will work with mental health clinicians from the county’s Health Care Agency, in addition to social workers.
Law enforcement should not be the lead role in addressing mental health crises, Barnes said during a social media livestream.
“Law enforcement should not be the first face of a government that those experiencing crisis should know, they should not be interacting for the first time with somebody wearing a uniform and a gun,” he said. “We need to increase our services with the right intervention strategies and social service strategies that replace a law enforcement response.”
The team has eight personnel permanently assigned to the bureau, Barnes said, in addition to about 50 others who will transition to behavioral health liaison officers. The team also includes eight sergeants and a supervising captain.
The bureau is in the early stages of scheduling clinicians, which will soon be scheduled once a week, with an eventual goal of having them with deputies full-time, said Sgt. Dennis Breckner, a department spokesman.
“We are employing a pilot co-responder model that includes a mental health expert, which will help this team be more effective,” said Capt. Nate Wilson, who supervises the bureau, in a statement. “Having the ability to rely on someone with extensive knowledge of mental health issues is an invaluable resource for us.”
…Deputies who work with the homeless population often interact with people who are mentally ill or have substance abuse disorders, but Barnes said he hopes the new bureau will be able to intervene with people experiencing a crisis before they become homeless or commit a crime.
The homeless liaison officers are already working and being reorganized under the new bureau, Breckner said. The community will not be impacted by the transition, as it is mostly rebranding and additional training, he said.”