Neighborhoods committee meets to discuss mental health issues, police response

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The Berkeley Safe Neighborhoods Committee met with police Monday evening to discuss police procedures in dealing with mental health issues and recent crime trends in Berkeley.

The committee, in partnership with Berkeley Police Department, holds monthly meetings to discuss public safety issues and coordinates community crime prevention efforts. Mental health issues were the focus of the meeting, brought about by a recent incident in which a person said to be mentally ill attacked an individual in the Downtown Berkeley BART station during morning commute hours.

BPD Officer Jeff Shannon gave a presentation on the increase in police dispatches for mental health crises as well as the resources available for dealing with such issues. Shannon is the coordinator for BPD’s Crisis Intervention Team, which provides training to officers for assisting individuals with mental illnesses.

In the past five or six years, the police department has seen a 43 percent increase in calls dispatched as 5150, indicating a mental health issue requiring crisis intervention, Shannon said. Most 5150 calls in the city happen along Shattuck Avenue, University Avenue and south campus, Shannon said, and close to half of the calls to the Downtown area are 5150s.

“Our interactions with people in some sort of crisis is the No. 1 drain on our resources at this time,” Shannon said. “We’re overwhelmed with trying to find a solution for people who are quite sick.”

While the city of Berkeley is doing more than the average community to combat mental health issues, Shannon said, inadequate capacity and limited resources remain the fundamental issues.
“If we look at the mental health system as a house, we would be looking at charred rubble on the ground,” Shannon said. “It is broken.”

Shirley Dean, the committee’s president and a former Berkeley mayor, said at the meeting that the committee would draft a letter with its recommendations on how to better address mental health issues in the community.

BPD Officer Byron White gave a presentation on crime trends between January and March of this year. The city saw a 133 percent increase in burglaries, which police believe was largely caused by bike thefts from homes, as well as a 40 percent increase in auto burglaries concentrated around West Berkeley and the marina.

BPD Capt. Erik Upson also addressed questions from the committee about recent crime activity, including a Monday shooting near Ashby and Shattuck avenues and fights involving Berkeley High School students. The committee wrapped up the meeting by singing and presenting a cake in honor of Upson, who will serve as police chief in Benicia, California, beginning later this month.

The next meeting is scheduled for May 4, during which time the committee plans to discuss drunken disturbances near campus and problems associated with the announced closing of a campus of the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley.

Amy Jiang is the lead crime reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @ajiang_dc.