The LAPD is calling for more officers to join its specially trained Systemwide Mental Assessment Response Team (SMART) units in response to increasing calls involving people with mental illnesses.
According to the Los Angeles Daily News, a commander for the department’s Mental Evaluation Unit is requesting more officers and clinicians join the program that changes the way police approach calls involving people in mental health crises.
The program deploys special teams, called SMART units, that consist of trained officers and clinicians who specialize in de-escalating encounters with people with mental illnesses. Currently, the LAPD SMART program has 63 officers that deploy in 12 teams across the city per day.
In a meeting with L.A. police commissioners, Lieutenant Kelly Muniz said the program needs to nearly double its officers to 152 to be able to expand the program to 34 teams, which was the original plan. Muniz added that L.A. County Mental Health Department (DPH) clinicians who partner with the SMART units need to double their numbers from the current 29 on staff to 60.
In order to keep up with the frequency of mental health–related calls, LAPD announced last month that it planned to expand its SMART units and change the way in which they’ll be deployed. Instead of having officers on the scene call for assistance from specially trained mental health officers and clinicians, the teams will respond to calls themselves. The units consist of SMART officers and the DPH mental health clinicians who respond together.
Muniz says the number of calls on record is not reflective of the true number. “The numbers there are no longer representing the current status of our unit — we’re actually getting to more calls that meet our criteria than we have in years past,” Muniz said.
Since February 10, the team has responded to 56 more calls than in the same time last year.
Muniz submitted her report requesting more officers to the police commission, which will be voted on by the City Council.
This vote comes as the City Council just approved a plan to reinvest $150 million from LAPD’s budget to communities of color — $7.8 million of that amount will be dedicated to an unarmed crisis response team.
It is not clear how the City Council’s crisis response team will affect the LAPD’s SMART program at the moment.