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Sacramento County to consider a 24/7 mental health crisis response program

Mental health advocates say the 911 alternative must be free of law enforcement.

SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. — Tombstones and fake body bags lined the stage at Southside Park Monday, as part of an artistic message from mental health advocates who say too often, a call for help ends in a life lost when police are dispatched to a mental health crisis. 

"They end up giving them bullets instead of the care and the compassion that they need, and we saw that here in our community with Mikel McIntyre, we seen it with Joseph Mann, we seen it with gabby Nevarez, and it needs to stop,” said Dr. Corrine Sako, a licensed psychologist of 25 years. 

The event aimed to mobilize community members to reach out to the Sacramento Board of Supervisors, who are scheduled to discuss and vote on funding a 911 alternative program Tuesday. Organizers say mental health professionals need to be the first responders to mental health calls. 

Advocates say county leaders have a real opportunity to save lives and money.

In a review of wrongful death lawsuits against the county, Sako said at least 15 people are killed by officers during a mental health crisis each year.

Last month, the county proposed a $1.6 million pilot program that would create a mental health crisis call center, separate from 911. Under that plan, the program would be staffed by five counselors and four two-person response teams. It would operate between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. After receiving pushback from community members, county staff was directed to go back to the drawing board. 

On Tuesday, staff will present three new models under an 8, 16, and 24-hour model. Also up for discussion is whether the call center would stand-alone, or move through current 911 dispatch call centers. 

Community members say they are petitioning the board to shape the 911 alternative free of law-enforcement.

"It might be that 911 has always been a good experience for them, but that shouldn't mean they should ignore us in the community that haven't had positive responses with 911. That don't feel safe calling law enforcement,” said Meg White, Co-Founder for J.U.I.C.E Sacramento. 

According to the county department of health services, a 24-hour call center and 12 mobile response teams of two could cost about $11 million.

"We want funding to come from the bloated sheriff's office budget, we want an independent advisory board. consisting of consumers who are the real stakeholders of these services, and we want law enforcement out of the equation,” said Sako.

Advocates say the board should consider it a cost-saving measure compared to the millions the county has paid in wrongful death settlements.  

The Sacramento Sheriff's office said it supported the previous pilot program, but ABC10 has not gotten word on the department's input on the new considerations.

However, in a county report, the Department of Health Services director said, “Conversations with local law enforcement have been very productive. There is consensus that the project is a worthwhile and needed service; however, there remains a great deal of detail to be discussed and decided.”

The hearing is scheduled for 9:30 AM Tuesday morning.  

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