Grand jury: Police training falls short

The Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury released a report Wednesday on police and mental health with recommendations that can help law enforcement become more prepared for crisis situations.

According to the Grand Jury, nearly one-third of police shootings in Santa Clara County arise from encounters with someone in a mental health crisis.

After studying data from the past five years, the jury concluded that nine of the 31 fatal shootings by law enforcement officers were situations in which mental illness was a primary factor.

The Grand Jury said that of the 31 shootings, the Santa Clara County District Attorney had determined 28 of them were justifiable under California law. The three other shootings were still being reviewed at the time of the report.

San Jose police said that 15 percent of all calls for law enforcement involve an element of behavioral health, according to the report. The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office reports two to three mental illness calls a day and five to 10 arrests per month involving individuals with mental illness.

The report said:

“Law enforcement officials say these types of calls have become more frequent.”

The jury recognized that “major efforts had been undertaken” in the county to train law enforcement on realizing and dealing with those in crisis and to engage mental health professionals in the response. However, they feel it isn’t enough.

The jury said in their report:

“There is room for improvement in the depth of training, the number of officers trained, current Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) class protocols and deployment of ‘in the field’ mental health professional teams.:

The Grand Jury analyzed crisis intervention training offered by every law enforcement agency in the county, they said, in order to offer suggestions in strengthening responses to interactions with those who have mental health issues.

In the report, the Grand Jury states that while all law enforcement agencies in the county mandate crisis intervention training, the level and type of that training is not consistent across all agencies.

All agencies reported that at least some of their officers receive crisis training past the basic police academy, but those hours ranged from four in Palo Alto and Santa Clara to 40 in Campbell, Los Gatos, Morgan Hill and other jurisdictions.

The jury recommended that all law enforcement officers receive additional crisis intervention and de-escalation training in order to deal with people who are behaving irrationally.

The jury suggested that the training include role-playing video simulations.

Lastly, the Grand Jury recommended that the county deploy additional mobile crisis intervention teams staffed by professional experts in mental health.

Deploying additional teams means that the county should immediately work on attracting, recruiting and training more professionals to staff future teams, according to the jury.