Police panel highlights homelessness/mental health pilot programs | TheUnion.com

Police panel highlights homelessness/mental health pilot programs

Nevada County’s law enforcement agencies agree: incarceration is not the right tool for every call that lands someone in jail.

The question is, how do they divert calls for service that are often ultimately mental health, homelessness or substance use issues away from the criminal justice system and toward supportive organizations?

Grass Valley and Nevada County are looking for that answer through separate pilot programs that team law enforcement officers with people trained to provide outreach services and resources.

According to Sheriff Shannan Moon, their program — which paired a crisis specialist with a sheriff’s officer in December with the goal of de-escalating crises and reducing incidents of arrest and incarceration — came as an extension of the agency’s services.

“It wasn’t necessarily a light bulb moment for me at any particular time,“ Moon said at a League of Women Voters of Western Nevada County forum Friday highlighting the programs.

“It was more about how can we provide the best services we can at our Sheriff’s Office for our community — and part of that is providing services for folks that are in crisis with mental health in the community and how we can better serve that person in crisis.”

Grass Valley Police Chief Alex Gammelgard agreed, explaining that while jail is the appropriate place for some, the department tries to “move upstream“ of crime when it can.

“What is the driving factor that’s causing the manifestation of whatever behavior we’re seeing? Gammelgard asked, noting that changing criminal behavior is the ultimate goal.

“They deserve to have every opportunity to be given the tools and the abilities to hopefully make a change in their life for the better.”

Grass Valley’s pilot program, which is funded through a state grant aimed at reducing violence, partners with Hospitality House and focuses specifically on homelessness.

According to Hospitality House Executive Director Nancy Baglietto, their team expects onboarding next month.


Both programs are designed to use evidence- and data-based outcomes to determine their future following the pilot period, though panelists conceded quantifying impacts could be a challenge.

“It’s a little bit complex, there’s not simple outcomes we’re looking at here” said Behavioral Health Director Phebe Bell, whose department is partnering with the Sheriff’s Office. “It’s about stepping back and thinking about what does success mean and how do we know this is making a difference.”

Moon added part of the challenge stems from identifying exactly which metrics are associated with improved outcomes, which may come with more experience.

Gammelgard said Grass Valley’s outcome tracking will include qualitative measurements of police trust and relationship building through surveys and interviews.

Whether the programs make a large enough measurable impact to continue long-term or not, Bell pointed out for the families dealing with mental health crises, choosing a supportive approach can make an immediate impact.

“It’s super hard to manage somebody in your life who you love with serious mental illness and support them,” Bell said. “And to know there’s community resources that can help you in those really tough moments I think is really positive for our community as a whole.“

To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.

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