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This Thursday, the Berkeley Mental Health Commission will be hearing input on the city’s plan for what to do with Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) funds, which total $25 million dollars over a 3 year period.
Join the Justice 4 Kayla Moore Coalition in urging the MHSA Advisory Committee and the City as a whole to direct these funds toward mental health services that decriminalize mental illness and disabilities.
Send this sample email to send to Karen Klatt, MHSA Coordinator, by THIS THURSDAY, JUNE 22nd. We encourage you to add your own experiences and input:
Dear Ms. Klatt,
It is time to stop criminalizing mental health disabilities in Berkeley. I urge the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) Advisory Committee to incorporate this goal into the MHSA 3-Year Plan and to fund programs that limit police interaction with consumers and instead offer non-police responses to meet our community’s mental health needs.
Berkeley mental health resources are currently so lacking that crisis support often falls to the police. In fact, 35% of Berkeley police calls are mental health related. When police officers respond to a mental health crisis, they bring weapons, dangerous restraints and a militaristic attitude to a situation that calls for a social worker or counselor trained in de-escalation and emotional support. While Berkeley is home to many skilled community members with countless hours of mental health intervention training, we regularly rely on police officers who complete a mere eight-hour training. It is not common sense to count on police to provide mental health care.
When we use police as first responders to crisis, we risk the lives of dear community members. According to a 2015 report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, a person with a mental health disability is 16 times more likely than another civilian to be killed by police when approached by law enforcement. Here in Berkeley, Kayla Moore was killed by BPD officers in 2013 while she was in crisis.
Our city relies heavily on the police to intervene in crises, in part due to the misconception that people with mental health disabilities are violent. Most people with mental health disabilities are not violent, and are in fact more likely than the general population to be victims of violence, whether that be in their homes, on the streets or at the hands of police officers. When Berkeley police killed Kayla Moore, she was in her own home, cooking dinner, accompanied by a caretaker, posing a danger to no one. With appropriate mental health services in Berkeley, Kayla’s tragic death could have been avoided.
Minimizing contact with the police would also minimize contact with the further-traumatizing criminal justice system. Twenty to twenty-five percent of individuals jailed in Alameda County live with at least one mental health disability. Berkeley’s model of police-first crisis response means that individuals in need of care and crisis support instead get locked up and further traumatized. This traumatization costs our city far more in the long run than preventive care.
Berkeley’s lack of accessible, preventative mental health services means that individuals in need get cops and jails instead of care. It’s time for Berkeley’s mental health programs to prioritize community support and minimize police involvement. The MHSA 3-Year Plan can lead us forward on this path by incorporating the following:
- 24-hour crisis response team, accessed via independent non-police dispatch, consisting of peers with lived experience and mental health professionals.
(Refer to the work of CAHOOTS in Eugene, OR)
- Permanent low- and no-income supportive housing that connects individuals with a mental health support system to help prevent and respond to crisis, minimizing risk of police contact.
- Community education to train Berkeley residents, workers and businesses in mental health basics and crisis response skills in order to reduce unnecessary calls to 911. (Refer to Mental Health Association of SF’s Supportive Crisis Response Training, EmotionalCPR, and Concrn’s volunteer-based crisis response in SF)
- Commitment to hire peers in staff and leadership positions in all MHSA programs, including the Homeless Outreach Team.
We cannot allow another tragedy like Kayla’s to happen in our city. Please consider incorporating these comments into the mental health plan.