Therapeutic Transportation Pilot Program will dispatch unarmed response to 911 calls for help with a non-violent mental health crisis

City of Los Angeles logoMayor Eric Garcetti was joined today by Los Angeles City and County leaders to announce the creation of the Therapeutic Transportation Pilot, a groundbreaking new model for unarmed crisis response that will dispatch mental health workers to some 911 calls for emergency assistance with nonviolent situations.

“Reform moves faster when you lead with purpose and embrace partnerships that move the needle,” said Mayor Garcetti. “Reimagining public safety means taking bold steps forward to make everyone safe and secure. The Therapeutic Transportation Pilot can become a model for communities everywhere that want to meet this moment by making meaningful change.”

The pilot, set to launch in early 2021, will carefully remove armed response from situations that do not require it — by dispatching mental health experts to respond to certain 911 emergency calls that might otherwise be routed to local law enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). The program — which will be examined for one year with an aim to expand into other cities across L.A. County — will embed teams of mental health professionals in five Los Angeles Fire Department stations and respond to and de-escalate emergency mental health calls 24 hours a day. Individuals in crisis will be transported to a location where they can be stabilized in a therapeutic van designed to meet their needs and accompanied by clinicians who can provide support and access to mental healthcare.

“This is another step forward in Los Angeles County’s efforts to vastly improve treatment for those experiencing a mental health crisis in a more thoughtful and effective way,” said L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger. “As a long-time advocate for more accessible and effective treatment, it is an honor to be a part of this program and partner with the City of Los Angeles to enhance mental health services for those in crisis.”

“We need two important things to happen when a person calls for help during a mental health crisis: the right people need to respond, and we need to take them to the right place for treatment,” said L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn. “This new therapeutic van program means that not only will trained mental health experts show up to de-escalate a situation and help a person in a mental health crisis, they will actually be able to take them safely to a Mental Health Urgent Care Center for compassionate, effective treatment.”

“I am proud of the City’s commitment to pilot an unarmed model of emergency response,” said Councilmember Monica Rodriguez, Chair of the Public Safety Committee. “Our police and firefighters always answer the call to protect and serve — but they’re too often asked to respond to situations that would be better handled by professionals highly-trained to assist people experiencing a mental health crisis. This is a moment to shift paradigms, break down silos, and commit resources toward our goals to reimagine public safety and save lives.”

“For far too long traditional first responders have answered mental health calls because there weren’t more specialized resources to be dispatched. It’s great to unveil a component of our ongoing effort to broaden the available tools for handling sensitive, nonviolent calls for service,” said Councilmember Bob Blumenfield. “We’re going to need more partnerships like this as we continue to invest in more non-violent, unarmed response teams.”

“Too often when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, this individual is met by an armed public safety response, which can escalate the situation by increasing the individual’s stress and anxiety,” said Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health Director Dr. Jonathan E. Sherin. “This approach can be counterproductive to helping stabilize the individual experiencing the emergency. This expansion of L.A. County’s Therapeutic Transportation Program in partnership with L.A. City Fire will further help individuals experiencing these mental health emergencies get the support and care they need in a time of crisis.”

“The LAFD welcomes this pilot program that will evaluate a new method of service for people experiencing behavioral health issues,” said LAFD Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas. “Providing the proper health professionals for these types of calls may be a good method to reduce overcrowded emergency rooms and keep our firefighters and paramedics available to respond to other acute emergency incidents.”

Under Mayor Garcetti’s leadership, there have been sweeping changes at the LAPD in recent years — including mandatory training in implicit bias and de-escalation for every officer. Los Angeles was the first big city in America to place body cameras on every officer and release videos to the public –– a policy that has become a national model. In July, Mayor Garcetti announced the establishment of a new Community Safety Partnership (CSP) Bureau within the Los Angeles Police Department — placing a nationally-recognized model for community policing at the heart of the City’s public safety efforts. The Police Commission announced a ban on the carotid restraint control hold in training and in practice; and the permanent discontinuation of the CalGangs Database, to end and prevent abuses that have had a disproportionate effect on Black and Brown men.

These and other reforms have made a measurable impact on public safety across the city: the LAPD has decreased fatal officer-involved shootings by half; reduced juvenile arrests 85 percent compared to 2010 through diversion programs; and expanded the area covered by Gang Reduction & Youth Development programs by 50 percent.

“This emerging alternative response model for people experiencing a mental health crisis is the natural evolution of our City’s reimagined approach to public safety,” says LAPD Chief Michel Moore. “Quality Through Continuous Improvement is at our core, and we fully support our City and County leaders’ effort to deploy trained mental health professionals to these situations which do not require a police presence.”

Mayor Garcetti’s commitment to reform has led to L.A. being the largest city in America in full alignment with the 8 Can’t Wait slate of reforms to use-of-force policy –– which includes a ban on chokeholds and strangleholds, requirements that officers exhaust all alternatives to deadly force and intervene against misconduct, and a prohibition on shooting at moving vehicles.

“Too many tragedies have resulted from situations where people need mental health care but aren’t able to get the services or resources they need in moments of crisis,” said Anthony Mack, Chair of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Racial Equity for the City Los Angeles Human Relations Commission. “This is a joyous day for our community, to see the City and County collaborating on a program that will save lives and meet the demand for real reform.”