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Hollister police officer completes training to avoid conflicts involving the mentally ill

Officer Staci Esqueda will work with the Behavioral Health Department on 911 calls.

Hollister police officer Staci Esqueda just became the city’s first to finish training so she can partner with San Benito County Behavioral Health Department workers in handling emergency calls more humanely when they involve mentally ill people.

Esqueda will go on the front lines using funds approved about a year ago for 911 calls from people experiencing a mental health crisis. The idea is to avoid violence during the response. Police and county behavioral health officials call their initiative Support, Awareness, Follow-up and Engagement, or S.A.F.E.

Esqueda will go on to train some of her peers, Behavioral Health Department Service Manager Nancy Abellera said.

In June 2020 the Hollister City Council approved funding of $160,000 for a three-year period that took effect the following month. The money will pay for Esqueda’s salary, employee benefits and equipment. 

City and county leaders hope to reduce the number of 5150 interventions in the county. The term 5150 is shorthand for letting authorities hold an adult involuntarily for a 72-hour psychiatric hospitalization if they have cause to believe the subject might endanger others or himself or herself.

Since July 2020, there have been 24 calls resulting in 5150 holds. Dispatchers can often already determine whether a S.A.F.E. team should take these calls, Abellera said.

“In situations in which HPD is dispatched to a call and it is determined that mental health issues are a component of the call, Officer Esqueda may respond first,” Abellera said. Abellara said she herself would help with these calls as needed. “Officer Esqueda, as a Hollister police officer, has had years of experience assessing for and writing 5150 holds.”

Abellera said officers dealing with both mental health and substance abuse issues have accessed treatment twice so far as a result of a S.A.F.E. team’s efforts.

“We had several instances in which we were able to expedite connection to mental health services,” she said. “The S.A.F.E. partnership’s mission is for our interventions to help de-escalate situations so an individual in crisis can develop a safety plan and eliminate the need for a 5150. We have had positive outcomes in this regard.”

Individuals on 5150 holds are medically cleared at Hazel Hawkins Hospital and are assessed there by county behavioral staff for whether they can safely be released or referred for psychiatric hospital placement. These holds on their own are not considered crimes.

“There can be a shortage of inpatient beds at any time at a hospital,” Abellera said. “If a client can be safety planned (a written plan made with the client and SBCBH staff that details interventions) they receive immediate follow-up by [county behavioral] staff. Individuals are assessed so that their needs can be met in the least restrictive setting possible.” 

Abellera said individuals who have criminal charges against them may be taken to jail. While there, they can receive care from a licensed contract clinician. While remaining in jail County Behavioral Health can give them mental health evaluations.

“The SBCBH psychiatrist can meet with inmates to assess and prescribe medications,” she said.


Other related BenitoLink articles:

Hollister Police Department releases video of officer-involved shooting

HPD arrests woman for climbing railroad crossing lights


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