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Antioch mental health crisis team touts positive results, no in-custody deaths after 1 year

Antioch crisis response team marks 1 year without in-custody deaths
Antioch crisis response team marks 1 year without in-custody deaths 04:06

Across the Bay Area, communities are looking for ways to deal with mental health crises without involving police. Antioch created it's own private crisis response team, and after 12 months the city's mayor says results have been positive. 

It's been exactly one year since the city of Antioch launched its "Community Response Team."

While it may be difficult to measure success on such a thing, the numbers are looking good. One number stands out from the rest.

Zero. That's how many people have died while in police custody since the community response team was created. Mayor Lamar Hernandez-Thorpe said that's exactly the result he was hoping for.

"The first month of my time as mayor of city of Antioch, I had an in-custody death that led to this. A month after that we had another in-custody death. And so, we haven't had an in-custody death since we launched this," Hernandez-Thorpe said. "That's a mark of success for me."

The program is contracted through the non-profit Felton Institute.

Members of the Antioch "Community Response Team", which responds to mental health crisis. CBS

To highlight the one-year anniversary on Monday, the Mayor rode along with the team. Their first stop was a strip mall that the crew said generates multiple responses per day.

Program manager Nick Jenkins said most of the calls are about nuisances created by homeless people in the area.

"We can't touch clients at all," said Jenkins.  "All we do is address the situation, 'Hey guys, can you turn the music down? Can you move along?' And it's either a yes or a no, but we approach everybody with the respect that they deserve."

A business owner named Tony approached to complain about the lack of response from police and the meager size of the crisis team.

"Two people cannot solve these problems! Three people cannot solve them! You need more bodies, you need help! I need help, you need help, he needs help!" he told the response team and the mayor.

Indeed, one of the purposes of the program is to help relieve police of non-emergency responses, and the mayor said that's another area of success.  The police department's ranks have been depleted, following a disturbing racist text scandal, and already, the crisis response team is taking 500 calls per month. That's freeing up the remaining officers to attend to more serious matters.

"Initially, we didn't know if these 911 calls would be coming in readily," said Felton Institute's Division Manager, Curtis Penn. "But to our surprise, they're starting to increase to that degree. We knew there was a need, but our relationship with dispatch is extremely important. And, again, 500 calls a month is pretty good, and I expect that to increase."

Now, the police are the ones calling in the crisis unit. On Monday, they asked for help on Railroad Avenue, where they were trying to get a group of homeless campers to leave.

"We're trying to do everything we can to get them to vacate..." said an officer at the scene.

So, the two team members first approached the campers just to talk and later offered them water and snacks. The idea is to act as a go-between, calming situations down to prevent a more aggressive reaction from either the subjects or the police.

"They rely on us--the P.D.--as much as we rely on them. So, it's a support issue," said Community Response Specialist Gina Peterson. "Yes, it's a great working relationship with the P.D."

Hernandez-Thorpe said he believes the program is working, but the initial $1 million of funding—a grant from the federal government—is running out. 

"Funding's going to have to come from somewhere to keep it going, and if it means we have to restructure the budget, we'll do that," he said.

The Community Response Team is named for Angelo Quinto, a young Navy veteran who was killed in 2020 after police were called in to deal with his mental health crisis.

For now, the intends to ask the City Council to allocate the money to continue and expand the response team, in order to prevent someone else's personal crisis from becoming a community tragedy.

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