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California City Solutions: Burbank Police Department Teams Up to Address Mental Health Incidents

April 10, 2015
This story is part of an ongoing series featuring Helen Putnam Award entries.
The 2014 entries are available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions. Burbank’s Mental Health Evaluation Team model was submitted in 2014 for the Public Safety award category.Burbank-MET-2013.jpg
During the last few years, the Burbank Police Department witnessed a considerable increase in calls involving people in mental health crisis. Addressing these incidents during the budget reductions of the Great Recession led the Burbank Police Department to collaborate with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH). Together the two agencies created the Burbank Mental Health Evaluation Team (MET). This is a co-response model where a licensed clinical social workers provide sworn police officers with guidance in responding to crisis-related incidents  on a 24/7 on-call basis.
The Burbank Police Department conducted a study of the number of 5150 WIC (involuntary psychiatric commitments under the California Welfare and Institutions Code) and mental health incidents in Burbank between 2008 and 2012. Results found that officer interactions with residents suffering from mental illness increased from 298 interventions in 2008 to 567 in 2012, a 193 percent increase.
When the Public Safety Realignment Act (AB 109) passed in April 2011, police services were again impacted as approximately 30,000 inmates in the California State Prison System were scheduled to be released on parole. More than half of this group had a Los Angeles County address and the probation department estimated approximately 20 percent of those being released would require further care from LACDMH.Burbank-MET-co-staff.jpg
Additional research by the Burbank Police Department showed that frequently in incidents with mentally ill residents, police officers had to provide medical care or set up solutions for better care for someone requiring mental health treatment, which could not be administered onsite at the location of the original incident. The officers often had to place the client on a 5150 hold and transport them to a local medical center for further evaluation. This process takes nearly four hours to complete and requires the services of at least two police officers and a licensed mental health clinician.Burbank-MET-PD-award.jpg
The Burbank Police Department began searching for an effective program to help those in need. Officers attended trainings and traveled to other law enforcement agencies hoping to learn what other ideas were being explored in the police community and private sector. After this exploring, the police chief and staff determined a unique co-response model would meet the organization's needs. With the support of the community, the Burbank City Council and Police Department were determined to implement this co-response model while keeping costs low and maximizing existing resources.  
In May 2012, the Burbank Police Department and LACDMH formally launched the Burbank Mental Health Evaluation Team (MET). The cooperative effort includes a licensed clinical social worker, provided by the LACDMH and sworn police officers, provided by the Burbank Police Department. The partnership created a cooperative team that combines the expertise and resources of both agencies to provide services that were previously unavailable to the Burbank community.
MET allowed police officers to return to their regular duties more often and had a positive impact on those requiring mental health services. In 2013, Burbank Police Department received 591 calls with mental health implications, of which MET managed 186. Further analysis indicated that MET managed 31.6 percent of the interventions while working only 21 percent of the total hours, proving the model to be effective and efficient. By providing a team to manage these interventions, the department was able to adjust resources toward other needs, saving 882 hours of patrol time, resulting in a monetary savings of more than $35,000.Burbank-MET-team.jpg
MET partnered with the Burbank city attorney to find solutions to habitual offenders and target problem areas within Burbank. Many police agencies often triage a mental health crisis but are not equipped to provide continued care. In order to meet this need, MET expanded its services and followed up with 458 clients who had contacted the department regarding mental health issues or are suffering from homelessness due to mental illness. The team provided counseling, referral services and other expertise to clients and their families, while using private hospital facilities and transportation services, providing relief to the overburdened county mental health system. These resources reduced the department’s impact on county services by 30 percent.
MET now also coordinates with the police department to train officers on how to better understand and manage incidents regarding mental health, as well as the Burbank School District, several local non-profit organizations and senior citizen organizations to elevate the level of service they provide.
One of the immeasurable benefits of MET is having a clinician in the field during the first contact with a client, ensuring that they receive the best possible consultation and care and improving long term success, resulting in fewer overall cases requiring interventions. The clinician is able to evaluate and determine if the subject requires immediate transportation to a mental health facility or if more appropriate care could be provided from other resources. The achievements of the Burbank Mental Health Evaluation Team have greatly exceeded what the city of Burbank and the Burbank Police Department had envisioned.

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