SAN FRANCISCO—The city of San Francisco is changing how it deals with 911 calls concerning individuals with mental health issues. The San Francisco Fire Department, alongside the Department of Public Health are forming a task force to respond to non-violent psychiatric, behavioral, or substance abuse related 911 calls.
In an statement released in June, San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced fundamental changes to the “nature of policing in San Francisco.” One aspect of these reforms will be on “reducing the need for police to be first responders for non-criminal situations.”
Unarmed, non-police teams will respond to police calls designated code 800. Code 800 is a designation that typically involves a broad range of “mentally disturbed person” calls. In 2019, the SFPD responded to nearly 39,000 code 800 calls and mental/behavioral crisis calls combined. According to police data, 132 of those incidents involved a suspect with “a potential for violence or a weapon.”
According to a study published by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, about 22 percent of fatal officer-involved shootings were mental health related. Another 18 percent were “suicide by cop” cases.
The same study found emergencies handled by mobile crisis teams resulted in a 27 percent reduction in psychiatric hospitalization when compared to more traditional police interventions.
Data from the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) estimates the number of people jailed in California with active mental health cases rose by 63 percent between 2009 and 2019. In San Francisco, 42 percent of jailed individuals have open cases.
The SFPD will still respond to calls involving any armed individuals regardless of mental state, as well as, any individual threatening violence.