UPDATE: City Council approves agreement for behavioral health clinician to assist with 911 calls

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(8/5): Last night, the City Council approved the agreement with Kern County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services to hire a clinician to work with dispatchers in taking 911 calls. 

Councilman Andrae Gonzales praised the decision and credited Measure N for making it possible.

“I think this is a huge step forward for our community. I think it should be celebrate,” he said. “I also would note its a $135,000 contract that’s being paid for by PSVS, the Public Safety and Vital Services Measure, and thank god for Measure N.”

Gonzales added the pilot program will last for one year, but he’s optimistic it will be extended in the future.

(8/4): BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The way the Bakersfield Police Department responds to certain emergency calls could soon change. 

Several months after a long list of recommendations for police reforms were made to the city, it appears BPD is ready to take action on at least one of those recommendations. Specifically, the department is looking to partner with a clinician on calls from those struggling with a mental health disorder. 

BPD Chief Greg Terry will officially ask the City Council during tonight’s meeting to consider approving an agreement with Kern County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services to hire a clinician to work with dispatchers in taking 911 calls. 

Terry said this would reduce law enforcement contact with people in crisis who would be better served by Behavioral Health staff. He also argues that the proposal will decrease the amount of time dispatchers spend on the phone for non-emergency, mental health-related calls. 

Traco Matthews is one of the core members on the independent Community Collaborative. After six months of research and meetings with community leaders, the collaborative released 20 recommendations to BPD for increasing trust between the public and police. 

One of those recommendations calls on the department to to better to improve training for behavioral health-related calls, citing data from the Institute for Criminal Justice Training Reform that at least 25 percent of the people killed by law enforcement nationwide exhibited signs of mental illness.

“So many of the calls that they tend to get, often folks are mentally distressed, and so by having a clinician — someone they hope can address a person or support — making sure they can get that instead of someone who can potentially harm that individual — that is crucial,” Matthews said. “By implementing this program, I absolutely believe lives could be saved.” 

BPD Sgt. Robert Pair says the clinician will be part of a test trial, but he adds department leaders are optimistic the program will succeed. 

“Having someone that has that training, that level of clinical experience, able to have communication with the person when they call 911, it’s hopefully going to be a win and divert potential tragedies,” he said 

If approved, the hiring of a Behavioral Health clinician is estimated to cost the city $135,000 per year and would be paid for with Measure N funding. 

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