Mobile crisis teams replace police on some non-emergency calls in Huntington Beach

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Huntington Beach is the latest Southern California city to adopt a nonviolent approach when it comes to community members who are going through psychological or substance abuse crises.

Through a partnership with the Be Well Orange County organization, the city has launched a mobile crisis response team.

Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said the mobile response team is made up of two crisis counselors who provide in-community assessment and stabilization of people who are in the middle of a psychological or substance abuse crisis.

One person on the team is trained as an emergency medical technician, while the other is a clinically trained counselor, according to the Orange County Register.

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“The team also provides information and referrals, transportation to services and additional follow up support and case management,” Carr told KNX.

Carr said the team responded to more than 330 calls for service during a soft launch last month.

“That’s 330 times our police officers were freed up to take care of other public safety issues,”  she said. “And that was 330 residents who had their mental health needs addressed.”

Be Well O.C. opened its first mental health and wellness campus in Orange County earlier this year in the city of Orange. The campus offers crisis stabilization services, sobering and recovery stations, substance abuse treatment, withdrawal management services, crisis residential services and residential services for mental health and substance abuse.

Board Chairman Richard Afable said the organization is more than just a center for help, it’s a movement.

“It’s our community-wide strategy, our organized effort to create a system of care for mental illness,” Afable said in a statement. “To vastly improve the mental health of the people in this community.”

HBPD's dispatchers have been trained to triage calls received through 911 and the non-emergency line and assess whether BWOC would be best suited to respond.

“When BWOC arrives, you will meet a team of 2 trained crisis counselors skilled in de-escalation,” the city said on its site. “Together, they can effectively address the emotional and social well-being of the client.”

Several law enforcement departments in Southern California have altered their approaches to similar calls, including the Long Beach Police and Fire Departments.

Officers and firefighters in the “Integrated Medical Intervention Response” program are being trained to cut down on the use of force and respond together to use a sedative, rather than weapons, to de-escalate encounters.