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Burbank Mental Health Evaluation Team: A Co-Response Model to the Need for Mental Health Services in the Community

BPD officers accepting a award for METIn May 2012 the Burbank (California) Police Department launched the Burbank Mental Health Evaluation Team (MET) in order to address the growing need for mental health services in their community. The development of this team came in response to the findings of a research study that evaluated the number of 5150 WIC (involuntary psychiatric commitments) and mental health interventions between 2008 and 2012 in Burbank. The study found an increase from 298 interventions in 2008 to 567 in 2012; a 193 percent increase. This substantial increase in calls for service and time spent on these often complex situations was putting a large burden on the patrol division.

In an effort to provide mental health services to this growing number in need, and to positively affect the community, the Burbank Police Department partnered with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH) to create MET. The cooperative effort revolved around a co-response model that includes a licensed clinical social worker—provided by the LACDMH—and a sworn police officer—provided by the Burbank Police Department. The partnership created a synergistic team that combines the expertise and resources of both agencies to provide services that were previously unavailable to the Burbank community.

MET had an immediate impact on those requiring mental health services, while also allowing patrol officers to return to their regular duties more often. From May 1, 2012 through May 1, 2013, MET managed 244 mental health interventions requiring both an evaluation and subsequent transportation to a mental health facility. During the same period, the Burbank Police Department managed a total of 567 interventions. An analysis of the data indicated MET managed 43 percent of the total interventions during the year while working only 21 percent of the total hours, proving MET to be effective and efficient.

Although responding to critical incidents is a major component of MET’s responsibilities, the team expanded its scope to address crisis situations and homeless outreach for individuals with mental health challenges throughout the community. Further, MET is providing extensive follow up and case management for individuals with chronic mental illness, substance abuse, homelessness, and criminal history. By addressing these concerns on a daily basis, MET has alleviated the burden placed on patrol resources by this growing portion of the population and provided expert assistance to those in need.

MET utilizes the resources of the City of Burbank as well as the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health to coordinate solutions for those with mental illness. Burbank clients and their families now have access to consultations, referrals, and outpatient mental health programs within the entire county of Los Angeles.

As MET progressed during its inaugural deployment, they garnered expertise in the mental health issues facing the Burbank community and determined a criminal element with mental health underpinnings was not being addressed by the agency. MET utilized a partnership with the Burbank City Attorney’s Office to find solutions to habitual offenders and to target problem areas within the city.

While MET has acted as a first responder to those in a mental health crisis, a major component of the team’s focus has been to conduct follow-up interactions with those requiring mental health services. Police agencies often triage a mental health crisis but have not been equipped to provide secondary or long term care. During their short existence, MET has conducted 321 follow-up interactions with those who have contacted the Burbank Police Department regarding mental health issues. MET has provided counseling, referral services, and other expertise to the clients and families of those suffering from mental illness. To further provide services to the community and guidance to the first responders, the team is available on a 24/7, on call basis, to deliver phone consultations in crisis situations.

While MET’s positive effect on the Burbank community and police department has been overwhelming, MET has also provided benefits to the mental health community, county services, and other police agencies. The utilization of private hospital facilities, as well as private transportation agencies has provided much needed relief to the overburdened county mental health system. This has helped lessen the impact of the Burbank Police Department’s on county mental health services by over 30 percent. It is believed that continued long term relief on the system will ultimately result in better care for someone requiring mental health treatment and will positively impact the Burbank Police Department’s interaction with the mental health community.

As the success of MET radiated through the Burbank community, the requests for assistance and training became abundant. As a result, MET has provided training to their entire department in handling incidents with mental health underpinnings. In an effort to further enhance the positive effects on the community, MET has coordinated with the Burbank School District, several local non-profit organizations, and senior citizen organizations to elevate the level of service they provide to those suffering from mental illness as well as to provide training. As an agency that strives to work with the community, MET has embedded within these organizations to assist and provide guidance as they partner to assist those suffering from mental health issues.

The continued reduction in mental health services is requiring the law enforcement community to take a greater role in helping those with mental illness. Within its first year, MET returned benefits beyond the goals established by the department and city. The number of calls for services managed by MET, the impact on habitual offenders, and the ability to partner with other agencies in the community have not only exceeded the original expectations for the program, but have demonstrated clear and evident benefits to the community as a whole.

For more information on Burbank’s Mental Health Evaluation Team, please visit www.burbankpd.org/specialized-units/mental-health-evaluation-team/.

Sergeant Mike Parrinello
Burbank Police Department

Captain Mike Albanese
Burbank Police Department

In Collaboration with Jessica Mansourian, The COPS Office

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