Santa Barbaar Police Chief Kelly Gordon | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Santa Barbara Police Chief Kelly Gordon informed members of the city’s Fire & Police Commission last week that she’s decidedly interested in expanding her department’s powers in dealing with people experiencing especially severe mental health crises. 

Santa Barbara County is currently the only county in California in which law enforcement agencies lack the authority to make what are known as 5150 findings, meaning that someone is so mentally ill they pose an imminent threat either to themselves or to others. Gordon, still less than a year into her position as Santa Barbara top cop, still finds that highly unusual. 

When Commissioner Lizzie Rodriguez asked the chief if that was something she was looking into, Gordon answered with an emphatic “yes.” Rodriguez then asked Gordon how she would feel if the commission issued a declaration of support for 5150 authorization. 

Fire & Police Commissioner Lizzie Rodriguez | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

“I think that would be fantastic if the commission would support that,” the chief replied. 

Gordon stated she would be meeting with ranking representatives of the County’s Department of Behavioral Wellness next week. 

“There has to be more discussion,” Gordon said. 

Gordon said that 5150 holds are a tool common to many of the departments she worked for before coming to Santa Barbara. Law enforcement agencies in Santa Barbara County have not availed themselves of the 5150 authority because there’s such an acute shortage of acute care beds. The county Psychiatric Health Facility has only 16 beds in which to hold people deemed to be in such psychiatric distress. This shortage has been remarked upon with alarm and distress by grand juries over the last three decades.  

For Gordon, or any law enforcement executive, to seek such authority would constitute a dramatic break with the ironclad tradition of an unwritten rule. Gordon also informed the commissioners that her officers — acting on their own — participated in 122 co-response actions with individuals exhibiting a high degree of mental health challenges. That’s in addition to the 102 co-response actions Santa Barbara officers engaged in with county mental-health case workers. 

Gordon said she made a point to highlight the actions taken by her officers acting without backup from case workers to justify the funding needed to secure a second co-response unit. Right now, the department has just one.


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