Report: Mental-health related incidents up in San Diego

SAN DIEGO - A new report reveals the number of mental health calls for service in San Diego has jumped 55 percent in the last few years, and some police officers told 10News it's only going to get worse.

In 2011, 61-year-old Mark Brown yelled obscenities at officers and threatened them with a knife as he paced in front of the San Diego Police Department's downtown headquarters.

When he refused to put the knife down, dozens of officers were brought in for what turned out to be a two-hour standoff. Crisis negotiators were also called to the scene.

After all efforts failed, police fired a rubber bullet and a few shotgun bean bags at Brown. Officers then arrested him and took him to jail.

Brown's case is just one of thousands of mental health cases that officers constantly deal with.  

Chula Vista police Lt. Fritz Reber said, "It's a big drain on resources."

On Tuesday, the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) released a study that shows just how big it is.

The four largest law enforcement agencies in the county -- San Diego police, Chula Vista police, Oceanside police and the county Sheriff's Department -- said that in 2008, they had 14,442 calls for service for a mental health-related issue. In 2013, that number spiked to 22,315 -- a 55 percent increase.

The SANDAG Criminal Justice Research Division undertook the study after receiving anecdotal reports that mental health calls were using up more law enforcement resources.

The number of such calls has increased each year since 2008, according to the report, with 15,226 reports in 2009, 17,388 in 2010, 19,194 in 2011, and 21,876 in 2012.

Reber said, "It's very time consuming. Obviously, the more calls for service we have related to these people, the less time we have to spend on other issues that might come about."

Chula Vista police say they have two Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) clinicians that ride with officers to help with these calls.

However, even the clinicians have become overwhelmed with the growing number of calls for service.

Chula Vista police have asked for another clinician but were denied.

For now, Chula Vista police are strongly encouraging its officers to attend the same training as the clinicians.

Possible reasons for the uptick include stressful economic conditions and the release of non-violent offenders who may have psychological problems, the report stated.

SANDAG concluded that a regional policy is needed to deal with the growing problem, which costs time and money and presents a public safety risk.

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