Westminster will have trained experts responding to mental health calls instead of police – Orange County Register

The Westminster Police Department and Be Well OC, a non-profit organization dedicated to developing a world-class behavioral health care system for Orange County, have partnered.

Instead of police officers responding to a mental health or substance abuse emergency call, in many cases, Be Well Mobile’s Crisis Response Team, specializing in de-escalation, crisis intervention, counseling and mediation, will respond.

The mobile response team can help with suicidal ideation, non-domestic violence, family issues and disputes, welfare checks, poisoning, and other basic needs such as food, shelter, water, and clothing. However, if there is a risk of self-harm or a public safety issue – for example, if someone is armed in a domestic violence situation – the Be Well team will respond with police.

If necessary, the team can transport the caller for further assistance. Depending on the crisis, the Be Well team can take the individual to the Be Well OC Orange campus, a local hospital, emergency room or shelter.

“Our goal is to seamlessly integrate with local law enforcement and first responders who can use us for mental health and wellness calls while providing their employees with better prioritization to meet community safety needs,” said Marshall Moncrief, CEO by Be Well OC. “This is a win for residents and local authorities across the board.”

The program, a two-year pilot, launched on June 26. The cost per year is about $1 million, said Heather Stratman, a senior administrator at Be Well OC, with funding coming largely from the remaining federal funds for Westminster’s pandemic relief efforts. Be Well OC also notes that funding will come from a local family foundation.

The cost, Stratman said, includes a mobile van plus staff time seven days a week.

Across the country, there is an uptick in mental health professionals responding to crisis calls that previously were typically answered by the police. Be Well’s mobile response team first launched in Huntington Beach in 2021 and is now also working with Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Garden Grove, Anaheim and Irvine. Westminster is the seventh Orange County city to partner with Be Well.

Stratman said the program was created because “for the last two decades, law enforcement has really been the first responder when someone was facing a mental health crisis or a substance abuse crisis, whether it’s at home, on the street, or in the community.” “And that’s not necessarily what they’re being trained to do in the community, and it’s really overwhelmed public safety.”

And the creation of the mobile response team helped “offload” law enforcement from those calls, Stratman said.

Be Well OC has tracked the success of its mobile response team in these cities and found that 88% of calls did not require transportation for additional care and 81% of calls did not require law enforcement cooperation. According to a Be Well OC press release, police in these cities found they saved an average of 10 to 12 hours a day by working with the Be Well Mobile Crisis Response Team.

“The Westminster Police Department looks forward to this new partnership with OC Be Well and is thrilled to be able to offer this additional service to accommodated (and) non-accommodated community members,” said Westminster Police Chief Darin Lenyi.

At the end of the two-year pilot, cities can make the decision to proceed with the mobile response team, Stratman said. Huntington Beach recently voted to renew the program.

The Be Well OC Mobile program in Westminster will operate seven days a week from 9am to 9pm. Residents can contact the Westminster Police Department’s emergency number at 714-898-3315 and dispatchers will decide whether to send law enforcement the Be Well Mobile Crisis Response Team or both.

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