Los Angeles County will soon deploy mental health services at Metro stations to improve public safety and reduce police intervention.
The new pilot program is the result of a partnership between Metro and the L.A. County Department of Mental Health and is set to last three years, after which time the program will be re-evaluated.
Under the program, teams of mental health professionals will be stationed at key Metro stations determined to be “hotspots” for mental health crises. These areas are yet to be decided.
According to L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn’s office, the teams will not only provide immediate care to individuals suffering from mental health issues, but also a variety of resources and transportation to appropriate facilities.
Hahn said the city’s Metro is a hub for people with mental health and substance abuse issues.
“Anyone who has taken Metro knows there is a mental health crisis on our transit system,” Hahn stated.
Officials say that a maximum of 10 mobile crisis outreach units will be available seven days a week during regular Metro hours. The program aims to connect individuals with mental health issues to affiliated service providers. In addition, around 30 Metro security officers will receive mental health crisis intervention training under the program.
According to Metro officials, one of the primary goals of the program is to prevent law enforcement intervention that could escalate crises into violent encounters.
Metro CEO Stephanie Wiggins hopes that deploying specially trained outreach units to handle mental health crisis calls will help minimize use-of-force incidents and the incarceration of individuals with mental health and substance abuse disorders.
“The agreement enables us to tap additional resources to respond quickly to those in crisis with field-based mental health services, which means law enforcement is not the first responder,” Wiggins said. “We believe this is an important tactic in our strategy to create a more comprehensive community-oriented model for ensuring the safety and security of our transit riders.”
Currently, the Metro system is embroiled in a fight between L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and county officials over the Metro security contract. The sheriff is seeking full control of the Metro system from L.A. to Long Beach, instead of maintaining separate jurisdictions.
The sheriff recently announced his Operation Safe Travel initiative, in which he vowed to crack down on homeless riders who commit crimes or harass riders.
In response to Villanueva’s announcement, Metro released a statement saying it was considering all options for “the most effective path forward to create the safest and most comfortable environment possible for our customers and employees.”