New numbers obtained by 10News reveal a disturbing trend when it comes to local police calls.
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Since 2008, San Diego police have seen a 54 percent increase in the number of mental health and suicide-related calls.
A decade ago, Wendy McNeill who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder was off her medication and roaming around Golden Hill when she saw a home with a beautiful hardwood floor.
"I was very manic, very fearless," she said. "I said, 'Oh, I can break into this guy's house and dance on his floor,'" said McNeill.
She ended up knocking at the door and when the homeowner answered, she pulled out a tie tack.
"I said, 'This is laced with biological weapons and if you don't let me in, I'm going to kill you,'" said McNeill.
The incident is one example of a growing trend.
"It's of epidemic proportions," said Assistant San Diego Police Chief Boyd Long.
Long says the number of mental health and suicide-related calls has risen every year since 2008.
Jim Fix oversees the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) which includes trained mental health experts that assist on scene.
He said the economy has increased stressors and kept some from reaching out for help.
"For some, they aren't accessing resources before the crisis occurs," said Fix.
It has proven costly. 10News crunched the numbers and since 2008, the 45,000 calls translate into an estimated 113,000 hours. That translates to $4.1 million and fewer resources for other police calls.
When asked if there is a tradeoff in response times for other calls, Long responded, "It's hard to say what the tradeoff is, but yes. These emergency situations are high priority. What could happen is other crimes of a lower priority would suffer. I'll be the first to say that is probably happening."
Long said delays may be happening in cases like a home break-in, in which the burglar is long gone.
Next month, police will move forward with an attempt at reversing the trend in mental health calls. Police will begin training every officer to be able to connect loved ones to mental health resources.
"There are a lot of agencies that can help and our goal is to bridge that gap," said Long. "Our goal is to get the information to the officers to get the information to family or loved ones."
In McNeill's case, the PERT team helped her get treatment and medication.
"I've just been steadily improving ever since," she said. "I credit the PERT team with a big part of my recovery."
For more information on local mental health resources, you can call the county's access and crisis line at (888) 724-7240. You can also visit up2sd.org
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