Mental Health Response in Pleasanton, Part 1: Three Names
Pleasanton has had a difficult history of assisting individuals with mental health emergencies. A wall exists in the conversation on policing, behind which the stories of residents dying during critical incidents are being downplayed, discredited, and forgotten. Our community must ask critical questions about the current role of the PPD in mental health crises and how our community could avoid such tragic circumstances in the future. But most importantly, we ask our community to remember three names in the ongoing conversation about police reform and mental health response. We cannot allow another story to be hidden behind this same wall.
Our three critical incidents of John Deming Jr., Shannon Estill, and Jacob Bauer, are the harsh reality of our city. We, too, are a city with a high proportion of mental health calls to the police. And while the officers in the three critical incidents may have felt that they themselves were at risk, the question is whether or not our community can prevent such tragic deaths in the future. Fortunately, there are potential solutions the city of Pleasanton could adopt to transform our approach to mental health crises.
In 2019, psychiatric commitments (known as 5150s) made up over 20.7% of the crimes and offenses in Pleasanton. Given that ordinary police work is already very demanding, we cannot expect our police to magically have the expertise to properly handle so many of these mental health situations. 5150s make up such a large portion of police responses simply because there is currently no one else to call, which is indicative of a wider societal deficiency in providing adequate resources to treat those suffering from mental health illnesses before they lead to crises. If Pleasanton were to implement new mental health services, dispatchers could be trained to recognize calls with strong behavioral components, and redirect those calls into the hands of well-trained mental health professionals, instead of the police.
With the current information available to the public from the Pleasanton Police Manual and the August 20th City Council meeting agenda, we are still unsure of the specific training given to our police. We do not know the degree to which de-escalation is emphasized and prioritized, beyond the fact that there is 40 hours of crisis intervention training. However, even if the amount and type of training was readily available to the public, this training would likely not be enough for a subject matter that takes years of study.
The minimum schooling requirement for mental health professionals is a bachelor’s degree with a majority of these professionals also having Master’s degrees and extensive practice in clinical fields. Police officers in California, on the other hand, are only required to hold a high school diploma or GED certificate. While the police academy and individual departmentals provide many more hours of training, officers do not and cannot have the same expertise about mental health as mental health professionals. But unfortunately, our community — like countless others across America — has resorted to having our police interact with mentally ill residents in crisis, even when it is clear that they are not and cannot be adequately trained to handle such situations.
The ongoing conversation about police reform is directly relevant to Pleasanton because of what happened to John, Shannon, and Jacob. Our community’s affluence and unawareness shields us from the degrees of socio-economic issues that other cities face. But that does not mean we are immune to the issues of our current approach to public safety. Mental health reform is a necessary step in our path towards the reallocation of police responsibilities for the safety and well-being of all Pleasanton residents.
This is the first in a series of articles about the need of an emergency mental health service in Pleasanton.