Law Enforcement Liaison Team Prepares Officers to Respond to Mental Health Crisis


Law Enforcement Officer

Law enforcement officers are often the first to respond to a person in a mental health crisis. Their ability to assess the situation and respond appropriately is critical in creating positive outcomes. In Santa Clara County, mental health professionals from the Behavioral Health Services Department provide specialized training through the Law Enforcement Liaison (LEL) Team to officers to improve the response to a person with a mental health issue.

“The mission of the LEL Team is to build and enhance teamwork, training, discussion, and collaboration with law enforcement agencies throughout the county,” said Sandra Hernandez, LCSW, Division Director, Integrated Behavioral Health Services. “Our goal is to provide officers the support and tools they need to improve their response to someone experiencing a mental health crisis.”

Mikelle Le, LMFT, Senior Program Manager, adds that the training also provides law enforcement departments with information so they can help residents get the mental health services and support they need.

Officers who have gone through the training agree the training they receive helps them, citing increased use of de-escalation skills and increased awareness of the broad spectrum of mental as two of the benefits.

Interactive Video Simulation Training

One of the hallmarks of the LEL Team is the ongoing development and implementation of the Interactive Video Simulation Training (IVST). The four-hour program was developed for officers looking to increase their ability to interact more effectively and safely with those experiencing a mental health related crisis. The focus is on greater understanding, sensitivity, recognition, and effective de-escalation techniques.

As part of the training, participants apply what they have learned in interactive video simulations. These simulations depict people experiencing a myriad of mental health related challenges. In the 2015-16 training year, 986 peace officers and corrections officers went through IVST.

Benefits of IVST

As a result of IVST training, follow up interviews with law enforcement officers indicate that the training has affected the work law enforcement officers do in the field. This includes increasing the knowledge of referrals, decreasing risk of injury to an officer, and for a person in a mental health crisis, lessening the chances unnecessary incarceration.

One law enforcement official, who manages trainings for his department, remarked:

“[The] instructors were passionate and were police officers…I’ve seen that whenever [we] can get trainers who have experience on the streets, the training goes over well. It is relevant and useful and reliable.”

Another officer who supervises a patrol team commented on the value of the training.

“Cops are a tough audience to train. It is a success if they leave the training without complaining. I did not hear complaints after this training. Everyone walked away with a piece of information they are utilizing on the street.”

Those passionate instructors referred to above are Tony Lopez and John Costa, retired law enforcement and LEL Team members. They are known as liaisons and they provide consultation on cases that may involve mental health issues. Another critical aspect of their work is serving as points of contact for law enforcement seeking positive and safe solutions when dealing with challenging mental health related cases in the field.

IVST as a Statewide Model

The success of this program goes beyond Santa Clara County. State Senator Jim Beall (California-D), chose IVST as a statewide model in mental health training for law enforcement. The LEL Team provided an IVST presentation before the state legislative committee on AB-11 and SB-29, which Beall credited with passage of the important pieces of legislation.

The legislation mandated a significant increase in the number of mental health training hours officers now receive in their academies, as well as advanced training requirements for field training officers and supervisors. The LEL Team has developed and submitted an expanded, eight-hour course outline that would help local law enforcement agencies fulfill the requirements of this legislation.

Extending the Reach of IVST

In addition, the project’s staff have given presentations at numerous local, state and national Crisis Intervention Team related conferences. As a result, the reach of this innovative program extends beyond trainings. Training materials have been provided to a number of agencies who have indicated a firm commitment to conduct trainings, including:

  • Alameda County
  • Oakland Police Department
  • Orange County
  • Contra Costa County
  • City of Oakland
  • CA State University System (all campus police departments)
  • San Diego County (trained approximately 60 officers)
  • Rio Hondo Basic Academy
  • Hampden Township, Mechanicsburg PA
  • CA CIT Association

Behavioral Health Services and the Law Enforcement Liaison (LEL) Team are excited to provide training to improve the likelihood of positive outcomes when officers are responding to a person in a mental health crisis.


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