Santa Barbara County Sheriffs Officials Investigating Shots Heard After Vandenberg Village Altercation

In 2018, Santa Barbara County launched a pilot program to pair a behavioral wellness clinician with a trained sheriff’s deputy to respond to incidents where people were in a mental health crisis.

Since then, with the benefit of grant funds, a single team has expanded into three, one of which is assigned to the North County, that have not only improved the well-being of those in crisis but also reduced the strain on county resources, according to a report to the Board of Supervisors last week.

In the view of Behavioral Wellness Department and Sheriff’s Office personnel, the Board of Supervisors and the family members of those in crisis, the program has been an unqualified success.

The teams have reduced the number of sheriff’s units required to respond to such calls, the amount of time units spend at each call and the number of people going to jail while increasing the number of individuals who have gotten help with services and treatment, according to the report.

Supervisors said they want to expand the program, with a goal of providing teams on an around-the-clock basis throughout the county.

“I don’t know how much more successful the program could be, except that we increase it, right?” said 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino. “I couldn’t be more impressed with the program.”

Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann called the co-response program “a game changer” and said the county deserves a lot of credit for being a trailblazer.

“This is where diversion starts,” Hartmann said. “This really opens up the alternatives available to how to best meet people’s needs. The value of that can’t be overstated.”

Statistics on the effectiveness of the co-response teams were provided by Cherylynne Lee, a behavioral psychologist who supervises the deputies on the teams.

“Perhaps the most valuable statistic is the number of arrests related to the number of responses by the co-response team,” Lee said.

She noted that in 2020, the county received nearly 3,000 calls involving people in a mental health crisis, and co-response teams were sent out on 1,606 of those calls. Only 11— less than 1% — of the people they contacted went to jail.

Lee also said when co-response teams were called, the total number of units needed at an incident averaged 1.6, and the time spent at an incident averaged 42 minutes.

When only patrol units responded, the number of units needed averaged 2.6, and the time spent at an incident averaged 2 hours and 6 minutes.

Lee said the number of such calls are rising.

“We’re in the midst of a mental health crisis,” she said.

From January through July this year, a total of 1,768 such calls were received, and July logged the most such calls of any month since tracking began at 396.

Locals invited to join Buellton's Alma Rosa Winery for 4-mile walk to support mental health Locals invited to join Buellton's Alma Rosa Winery for 4-mile walk to support mental health>

Locals invited to join Buellton's Alma Rosa Winery for 4-mile walk to support mental health"> Locals invited to join Buellton's Alma Rosa Winery for 4-mile walk to support mental health

  • Santa Ynez Valley News Staff Report

She said it’s not unusual for a co-response team already on a call to have two more pending. But it would require eight teams to provide full coverage countywide, she said.

The report didn’t have an actual dollar amount the teams have saved the county from fewer people being incarcerated, fewer units needed at an incident and the length of time spent there.

But 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart challenged the Sheriff’s Office and Behavioral Wellness Department to find a way to use the money saved to expand the program.

h4">>By the numbers

Of the 496 individuals Santa Barbara County co-response teams encountered in 2020:

57% — Were male

49% — Identify as White

56% — Did not have a permanent home

18% — Had at least one arrest in 2020

82% — Had been admitted to mental health facility

20% — Had been admitted to drug or alcohol treatment

74% — Had one encounter with co-response team

19% — Had two encounters with co-response team

8% — Had three or more encounters with co-response team

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