Police or Social Workers: Who Should Answer Mental Health Calls?
A fatal police shooting last summer has birthed a year-long movement.
Its supporters intend to make sure the death of a young man who was killed by Walnut Creek officers while suffering a mental health crisis will not be in vain.
The Walnut Creek Police Department is continuing to evolve the way they handle mental health calls as the victim’s family pushes for law enforcement to be removed from those scenarios altogether.
The family of Miles Hall called on 9-1-1 for help on June 2, 2019, as he suffered a breakdown at their Walnut Creek home. Instead, the 23-year-old was shot and killed by two of the five responding officers as he ran past them with a metal bar in hand.
All involved were back on active duty within weeks.
“You call because you need someone to come and help. And come with compassion and not guns,” said Taun Hall, Miles’ mother.
To prevent this heartache from happening again, a group formed called “Friends of Scott, Alexis and Taun hall” has been demanding that officers be removed from these types of calls and be replaced by social workers.
“So to have the community behind us and supporting us has been remarkable. I don’t think we would have gotten as far as we have because we know that some of our efforts are going to help save other lives,” Hall said.
Tuesday night, city council was presented with ongoing changes to policing and what a future response may look like.
City manager Dan Buckshi pointed to three options: expanding a countywide 24/7 mobile crisis response team of mental health experts, modify and improve it, or start from scratch.
A plan to expand the regional team was presented to a mayor’s conference and the council allocated $100,000 to finance the program once it is developed.
But Buckshi warns it may have its downsides — like putting the lives of social workers and clinicians at risk.
As a non-law enforcement response is in the works, police will continue responding to all calls.
The police department said it has added non-lethal tools for responding to calls, like bola wraps that shoot an 8-foot cord at a person and limit their mobility. In addition, 33 more bean bags were bought — but they did not work when deployed on Hall. Plus, new straighter and faster tasers replaced their old ones, and all officers will get empathy training with virtual reality headset that walk them through mental health scenarios.
City leaders are going to dig deeper on how existing programs elsewhere work, how many more social workers here would need to be hired, and they will ask for input from local non-profits before they settle on a system for all of Contra Costa County.
The city manager worries calls may not be answered quickly enough by social workers. In comparison, police can arrive within five minutes.
But the goal is to design a program starting in January 2021.
Meanwhile, the district attorney’s report on Hall’s death is expected by the end of the year. His mother would like an additional independent investigation, and to move officers involved in fatal shootings off the streets and onto other tasks.
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