Glendale Police Department forms unit to address mental health calls

For Glendale Police Officer James Colvin, the new assignment is deeply personal.

Three years ago, his mother, who has a history of mental illness, went missing.

She ended up in Minnesota, breaking into a house, with a steel bar in her hand, Colvin told city officials at a meeting earlier this week.

The police officer who responded to the call had gone through mental-health training, and recognized signs of dementia and schizophrenia.

"He was able to de-escalate that situation, treated my mom like a person," Colvin said. "No use of force was used, and she got the treatment she needed."

Earlier this year, Colvin — who also volunteers for the Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services suicide hotline — was reassigned to lead the Glendale Police Department's new Mental Health Evaluation Team, which consists of another officer and, starting in October, a Los Angeles County mental health clinician.

The trio will respond to mental health-related calls, and proactively follow up with individuals to make sure they're getting the help they need. That may include helping the homeless find housing or following up with mental health patients to make sure they're taking their prescribed medications, said Glendale Police Chief Robert Castro.

The goal, he said, is to reduce repeat calls on the same people, which can bog down patrol officers. Since the team was put in place, Castro said, it's been averaging about five calls a day.

Exacerbating the workload, Castro said, is that some people with substance abuse problems aren't being treated through the court system because of Proposition 47, which downgraded some drug-related crimes to misdemeanors.

"A lot of people who may be committing petty crimes or causing problems have issues that need to be resolved," he said, noting that Glendale police see them more as victims instead of criminals. "We need to get them some sort of help or else we're going to continue the cycle of arrest, release, arrest, release — and that doesn't help anybody."

Colvin also works closely with family members of those with mental illnesses. This year, he helped place a 15-year-old girl with a history of violent, suicidal and unpredictable behavior in a treatment facility in Utah.

"The bread-and-butter of this team is going to be long-term problem solving," Colvin said.

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Alene Tchekmedyian, alene.tchekmedyian@latimes.com

Twitter: @atchek

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