SF Unveils New Mental Health Response Team


Claudia Russell

On November 30th, San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced the deployment of the city’s Street Crisis Response Team (SCRT), which will respond to mental health-related 911 calls with a team of trained mental health specialists. According to a press release from the office of the mayor, the SCRT is the result of a collaboration between the San Francisco Police and Fire Departments, and will begin its first phase by focusing on the Tenderloin neighborhood.

The SCRT is one of the ways that the city is attempting to reduce the amount of violent police altercations that occur between officers and people experiencing mental health crises. According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, some 20%-50% of fatal police encounters involve someone with an untreated mental illness, and mentally ill people are 16 times more likely to be brutalized by law enforcement. By replacing armed officers with teams of paramedics, behavioral health clinicians, and behavioral health specialists, the city hopes to divert individuals experiencing mental health episodes from “emergency rooms and criminal legal settings” and get them the help they need, according to the press release.

The city’s measure to change the way public safety is handled follows a summer of protests and civil unrest, from which came calls to defund the police and invest in the community, including mental health-oriented services and programs. Across the Bay, Oakland recently introduced a task force with a similar purpose as the SCRT, called the Reimagining Public Safety Taskforce. According to their website, the goal of the taskforce is to reconstruct Oakland’s public safety system by creating “alternative responses to calls for assistance, and investments in programs that address the root causes of violence and crime… with a goal of a 50% reduction in the OPD General Purpose fund budget allocation.” This reduction in funds, however, will likely take a longer time than anticipated so that the city can create programs and public safety alternatives that will counteract reducing the number of police officers patrolling the streets.  Hopefully, with these changes made to public safety, the Bay Area will see fewer violent police incidents and a better relationship between law enforcement and the communities they are meant to protect.