The Bakersfield City Council members voted to approve placing a mental health clinician in the 9-1-1 dispatch center on August 4.
This pilot program allows a Kern Behavioral Health specialist to be inside the Bakersfield Police Department 9-1-1 dispatch center to handle non-emergency mental health calls for those struggling with suicidal thoughts or other mental health related issues.
Before this program’s approval, the Bakersfield Police Department and Kern Behavior Health & Recovery Services (Kern BHRS) partnered up to operate the Mobile Evaluation Team (MET) which dispatches law enforcement when a mental health crisis is identified in the community. Because mental health crises result in the highest number of calls to the Bakersfield Police Department dispatch center, this new addition is meant to avoid a police response completely.
Councilman Andrae Gonzalez announced the agreement between the Bakersfield Police Department and Kern BHRS, stating that it is important to “provide an appropriate response for those folks who are living with mental health issues.”
The program is budgeted to cost up to $135,000, paid for by the Public Safety and Vital Services Measure.
People’s Budget Bakersfield, a grassroots coalition led by Black organizers and community members, which advocates for defunding the police in order to fill the needs of the communities, considered this action a small step in the right direction.
“At best, this reform is symbolic and a drop in the bucket to what our community deserves,” People’s Budget member Josth Stenner wrote in a text to The Californian.
After hearing concerns about police response to people in mental health crisis and training around that issue during a Bakersfield Police Department Community Collaborative listening session, the addition of a mental health clinician could foreshadow a necessary shift in strategy for the BPD.