Berkeley neighborhood committee meets with police, discusses updates on mental health issues

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The Berkeley Police Department met with a neighborhood committee to discuss updates on mental health issues and other agenda items that were covered in previous committee meetings, as well as to address safety concerns and questions.

The Berkeley Safe Neighborhoods Committee, or BSNC, met with BPD Lt. Andrew Greenwood during its regular meeting to discuss mental health, police collaboration with Berkeley high schools and crime trends. On April 31, the BSNC sent out a letter to Berkeley City Council with seven recommendations for better addressing the mental health issues in the community but received no response.

The letter’s recommendations to City Council included holding public meetings with the police chief and patrol officers, establishing a work group to implement a multi-agency data-sharing system, increasing psychiatric-bed coverage by Medicaid and Medicare, creating a mental health crisis hotline and making a serious commitment concerning Alameda County’s part in implementing Laura’s Law, a state law that authorizes each county to approve court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment for mentally ill individuals who pose a significant threat to themselves and others.

“We’ve got to find the resources to help (people with mental illnesses), or this problem will be forever,” said committee member Dean Metzger at the meeting.

According to a presentation at the April BSNC meeting by Officer Jeff Shannon, coordinator for BPD’s Crisis Intervention Team, the police department has seen a 43 percent increase within the past five to six years in calls dispatched as 5150, which indicates a mental health issue requiring crisis intervention.

Shirley Dean, president of the BSNC and former Berkeley mayor, said the noncoercive alternatives proposed by the mental health commission — such as “involving peers and family members in a meaningful way” and “expanding crisis residential treatment” — may or may not be adequate to address the issue.

“Maybe they work for those who are at the beginning stage of mental health problems, but they won’t work across the board for those people who are already in a deep and serious mental illness crisis,” Dean said.

The BSNC decided to ask to be represented at the City Council meeting June 9, when the mental health commission’s proposal will be discussed.

At Monday’s meeting, the committee also talked about updates on conflicts related to Berkeley high school students, noisy and drunken parties on the south side of campus, crime trends and concerns about police-staffing status. At next month’s meeting, the committee will discuss how to make up-to-date crime information — such as density maps, arrest data and armed-versus-unarmed comparisons — available on the BPD website.

Contact Tianyi Dong at [email protected].