County launches intervention team

SANTA CRUZ — The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday heard a report on a new program created to help some of the county’s most recalcitrant criminals.

Launched on Jan. 28, the Focused Intervention Team is comprised of three Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s deputies and three county mental health professionals. The group is tasked with identifying “serial offenders” with a track record of disruptive and criminal behavior.

“This team of clinicians and law enforcement is going to focus on those people involved with criminal behavior and act in a way that scares people,” Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart said. “Our community and our visitors deserve better. Law-abiding community members must be allowed to visit local businesses and open spaces without being fearful of the actions of a small number of people who refuse treatment and help.”

The program currently has 20 participants, all of whom are homeless.

Participants will be connected to services such as mental health care, medical and food benefits and housing.

The FIT program is funded by Measure G, the November 2018 half-cent sales tax measure approved by two-thirds of county voters.

So far this fiscal year, $337,485 of Measure G funds have gone toward the program.

An additional $55,811 will go toward staffing related to mental health services.

The supervisors have approved funding for four full-time positions in the sheriff’s office, and three positions from the Health Services Agency. The program is expected to cost $1 million for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

According to Hart, people booked into jail typically take a long time to be classified and housed.

The FIT program, he said, essentially fast-tracks program participants, so they can receive the services they need within 24 hours.

“It’s a proactive approach with a part of the population that has been resistant to change,” he said.

They are then kept in custody until their arraignment to give them a chance to sober up.

As an example, Hart told the story of a man who was arrested 43 times in 2018, and 11 times in the last 90 days. He also has 54 stay-away orders at locations throughout the City of Santa Cruz.

“In many ways, this is just an example of the way that these people are calling out for help,” Hart said. “You can imagine the level of resources it takes to manage this one person.”

Hart will return to the board in September with a program update.

Supervisor Ryan Coonerty, whose district includes the Santa Cruz area, said he hopes the program will help reduce crime in the downtown area.

“This is the single most important issue facing my district, which is real fear and a lack of public safety in public spaces,” Coonerty said.

“This is really an efficient way to address some of the most critical needs in law enforcement and some of the so-called troublemakers in our community,” Supervisor Bruce McPherson said.

Watsonville Police launched a similar program based on the FIT model in 2016 when it paired a master officer with a mental health professional.

That team will work with the FIT.

“Our officers are committed to helping those in crisis and the Focused Intervention Team will broaden their ability to provide proper support,” Watsonville Police Chief David Honda said. “The County of Santa Cruz continues to lead in its efforts to provide multiple layers of care to its mental health community.”

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