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Modesto City Council approves plan to pair police officers with clinicians for mental health calls

The proposal was passed in a unanimous vote during Modesto City Council's Tuesday meeting but still must be approved by Stanislaus County.
Credit: Courtesy: Modesto Police Department
Modesto police badge.

MODESTO, Calif. — The Modesto City Council has approved a new plan that will pair some Modesto Police Department officers with mental health or behavioral health clinicians on mental health-related calls for service.

"We are seeing more and more across the state, the interest in alternative responses to law enforcement when there is a mental health emergency in the community," said Ruben Imperial, director of Stanislaus County's Behavioral Health and Recovery Services. "By introducing a mental health clinician, you provide additional support for law enforcement and the community member in that moment of crisis and ultimately have that situation resolved in a way where that person gets help, and of course, reduce the overall risk."

The proposal, approved in a unanimous vote during the city council's Tuesday meeting, still must be approved by the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors in May before it can be put into place.

Under the plan, the Stanislaus County Office of Behavioral Health and Recovery Services would hire two outreach specialists for the Modesto Police Department's community health and assistance team (CHAT). The positions will be funded for one year by the city of Modesto.

The two clinicians will ride along with crisis-intervention-trained Modesto Police officers and respond together with the officers to calls for service related to behavioral health issues.

The plan was modeled after a previous program that also paired some Modesto Police officers with behavioral health clinicians. That program was halted in 2017 due to staffing and budget issues, according to city documents.

"There's been stakeholder input interested in starting programs like this, or in this case, bringing back a program," Imperial said. "We've got really good partnerships with our law enforcement agencies locally, not only do we partner in an endeavor like this, we also have crisis intervention training."

During Tuesday's city council meeting, Modesto Police Chief Brandon Gillespie said that while the plan may start by having the two clinicians go out on calls Monday through Friday, he hopes to eventually have one of the clinicians assigned to each of the police department's two squads, bolstering their work to seven days a week. 

Under the proposal passed Tuesday, the money from the city of Modesto would fund the positions for one year with the agreement between the city and county expiring on June 30, 2023.

"Getting the support you need is important, in that time of crisis," Imperial said. "But we would hope that the community wouldn't wait until there is a crisis, that we encourage individuals that are beginning to experience the first onset of mental health challenges or a mental health illness, that they would reach out."

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