Grand jury investigates mental crisis response


SANTA CRUZ COUNTY — The Santa Cruz County Grand Jury on Thursday released a report of how law enforcement officials and mental health workers respond to mental health crises, and made a handful of recommended changes.

The investigation was spurred by two incidents in 2016 in which people experiencing a “behavioral crisis” were shot to death by responding police officers.

The first was Sean Arlt, 32, who was fatally shot in October after threatening officers with a large metal rake.

In November 2016, 15-year-old Luke Smith stabbed his father and uncle, and was shot to death after resisting numerous orders to surrender. Luke kept fighting despite being struck by several rubber bullets and Taser blasts and being attacked by a police dog.

Arlt was known to have a mental illness. Luke was under the influence of LSD. In both cases, police were criticized for the way they handled the situations.

The grand jury investigated the county’s system of crisis intervention, and asked why law enforcement is the primary responder when the issue is one of mental health.

During the investigation, grand jurors visited the county’s detention facilities and the County Regional 9-1-1 center. They also interviewed mental health professionals, county administrators and first responders from each department.

They also took a look at the training that law enforcement officials undergo in the wake of the 2016 incidents.

In its findings, the grand jury suggested adding more mental health liaisons, who ride with police officers to help deal with people who are in crisis. They should also be available at all hours, the grand jury said.

The jury also recommended that the county expand the use of its Mobile Emergency Response Team, which is called by physicians’ offices, clinics, urgent care facilities, and schools that are dealing with people in crisis who do not pose a threat.

In addition, emergency dispatchers and responders should find a way to distinguish between threatening and non-life-threatening EDP calls, the report suggested.

The report criticized the county for its use of the Telecare Corporation to run its Behavioral Health Unit. As a private entity, the company was beyond the jurisdiction of the grand jury investigation, the report said.

The jury therefore recommended a compliance audit of the company, and in particular urged a close look at an October 2017 report by the National Alliance on Mental Health that was critical of Telecare’s practices.

While the contract between the county and Telecare provides for oversight of the company, there is no publicly available record of any county audit or inspection of the Telecare facility, the report stated.

Under state law, organizations typically have 90 days to respond to grand jury reports. They are not, however, required to implement any of the suggested changes.

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To see the report, visit tinyurl.com/y7c9462r.


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