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Nevada County OK’s new mobile crisis team

Sheriff Shannan Moon made the case Tuesday for another behavioral health clinician, meaning a second Mobile Crisis Team can be deployed.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the acceptance of a $250,000 grant from the Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing to support the salary and benefits of a behavioral health professional. That person will partner with a sheriff’s deputy and can deescalate a crisis, leading to peaceful outcomes.

“I feel 100% certain it is absolutely worth the time and effort,” Moon said. “Teams out there in the community can help people, so when we talk about a 5150 (involuntary commitment to a hospital), we can help anyone with a mental health crisis with someone who has just a first response, law enforcement capability, but is also part of our critical negotiating team that responds as part of our special enforcement detail.”



Deputy Galen Spittler and Master of Social Works clinician Ernesto Alvarado also spoke in favor of a second team. They were members of the pilot program that started in December 2020.

While the team answered 340 calls for mental health crisis in the past year, it also responded to over 600 general service calls.



“When we respond to general calls for service, we’re still pretty thoughtful how to apply service,” said Alvarado. “Often we figure out how to collaborate together and respond appropriately. But not every call leads to an assessment.”

Spittler is the law enforcement part of the team.

“If the team is around something volatile, I’m making sure the team is safe through de-escalation measures, or asking for more deputies to provide the best services possible,” he said.

Alvarado said they have become an integrated mode within their own patrol system.

“We understand each other’s body language, so I know when it’s a deputy issue and I’m never put in a position that will endanger myself,” he said.

PARTNERSHIP

Supervisor Ed Scofield said it was what the board had envisioned when the pilot program was authorized.

“I think a non-uniformed person would have a calming effect,” he said.

Spittler said some people gravitate to him because of his uniform while others prefer to speak with Alvarado.

“It’s a partnership, and I can recognize when someone does not want to speak with me,” Alvarado said.

The radio dispatch team is another integral part that is trained when to refer cases to the team.

“So having us out there, we can provide an alternative to deliver a positive outcome,” said Spittler. “A lot of other deputies have seen our style, how we operate and how we can take a step back, dialogue with people and can see how communication between a deputy and a clinician is helpful.”

People have questioned why the team was not dispatched to a February incident that resulted in the officer-involved shooting death of Sage Crawford.

Former District Attorney Cliff Newell, in office when the shooting occurred, has said it was a difficult but reasonable decision for the deputies to use deadly force, given the circumstances.

Sheriff’s Public Information Officer Andrew Trygg, when asked for comment about another intervention team, said there was only one Mobile Crisis Team available at the time.

“(Tuesday’s) meeting was to approve the second team,” Trygg said. “As such, Deputy Spittler and Therapist Alvarado can only work 40 hours a week, making them unavailable for 128 hours each week. They are not on shift 24/7 and are not available to respond to every ‘person in crisis’ call. With the addition of this second team, we are hoping to increase their availability to have this valuable resource available more throughout the week.”

Authorities on Feb. 4 responded to a report of a woman walking in the middle of the street with two small children on Names Drive in Alta Sierra.

Video of the incident shows Crawford pulling a knife as a deputy approached her. She appeared highly agitated during the interaction. One of the deputies fired a Taser at her, but did not make contact, and the second deputy fired a total of five shots as Crawford ran toward the first deputy with a knife. Crawford was treated at the scene after she dropped the knife and was transported to the hospital, where she died.

William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at wroller@theunion.com

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