At a time when San Diego’s crime rate is at a historic low, the number of incidents involving mental health issues is increasing, reports the Voice of San Diego. Police Chief William Lansdowne points to a decline in social services and calls mental illness one of the city’s most growing public safety concerns. Some officers end up getting in-depth training to help them understand mental illness, but it’s uncommon. Some police officers are being thrown into situations without the specialized training that advocates say could help them make better decisions. Some incidents, like suicide threats, develop so quickly that the average patrol officer can’t wait for crisis negotiators or licensed clinicians to assist.
Last year, San Diego Police received 4,812 calls for incidents involving suicide attempts or suicide threats, a 7 percent increase from the previous year. And 768 of those calls elevated to a point where police needed to intervene and document a serious threat to life, a 13 percent increase from the previous year. “The two areas that we’ve seen increase are aggravated assaults and mental health issues — suicides and people in deep emotional distress,” Lansdowne said. “As the state cuts back and the county cuts back on those (mental health) issues, it’s the responsibility of local law enforcement to manage them.” San Diego County has increased funding levels over the last few years for its behavior health services, which includes drug treatment programs, mental health programs, and the county’s mental health hospital. At the same time though, Lansdowne says these budget increases haven’t kept pace with rising demand.