A coalition of mental-health advocates is gearing up to lobby Santa Barbara County supervisors to fund expanded mental-health training for county law enforcement personnel. Activists with Families Act! and NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) are calling on the supervisors to find at least $350,000, part of which would fund at least one full-time position for what’s called Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), which teaches law enforcement officers how to de-escalate potentially violent interactions with those experiencing acute mental-health crises. The money would also fund a new “co-response team” in which a mental-health professional from Behavioral Wellness would be paired up with a Sheriff’s office deputy. They are hoping the supervisors will earmark some of the new tax revenues anticipated from the nascent cannabis market. Currently, the Sheriff’s Office funds the CIT program to the tune of six hours a week — but the durability of this funding stream is highly uncertain. To date, all deputies and jail personnel have undergone eight hours of CIT, but only a handful have undergone the 40-hour program. Sheriff Bill Brown and Undersheriff Barney Melekian have expressed enthusiastic verbal support for the program, but they have cited chronic funding shortfalls.
In Ventura County, a similar program received $250,000 a year, and 80 percent of all sworn officers have received 40 hours of training. One of the two candidates opposing Sheriff Brown in his bid for a third term is Lieutenant Eddie Hsueh, who got CIT started in Santa Barbara County two years ago. Hsueh, late in announcing his candidacy, is considered a long shot. But the issue of CIT will be central to his campaign.
In addition, they’ll be lobbying to maintain the limited funding now in place to implement Laura’s Law, a three-year pilot program providing aggressive outreach — including intervention by a judge, if need be — for the most service-resistant people experiencing mental illness.