The city of Pleasanton took home the Helen Putnam Award for Excellence for the development of the Pleasanton Police Department's Alternate Response to Mental Health program during the annual League of California Cities conference last week.
The association of city governments from across the state awarded 10 cities on Sept. 21, including Pleasanton, for their "outstanding efforts and innovative programs to improve the quality of life and delivery of services in their communities", according to its website.
"By utilizing the specialized training of the licensed mental health clinicians from Bonita House Inc., and through partnerships with local health institutions, the city has significantly expanded the scope of emergency mental health resources provided to its residents and increased levels of service, compassion and care," City Manager Gerry Beaudin said in a subsequent press release.
After the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in 2020, the Pleasanton City Council had held several public dialogue sessions in order to discuss policing in the city and while there were several themes that came out of those conversations, the overall consensus from residents was that they wanted officers not in uniform to respond to mental health 911 calls, according to city officials.
They also wanted the city to offer more appropriate resources from licensed clinicians for at-risk community members.
After that, the council unanimously approved the formation of a task force to identify such a program that would provide an "alternative approach to addressing community members experiencing a mental health crisis," according to city officials.
The police's alternative response unit was eventually brought to the council for approval in 2022 and was then fully implemented by January 2023 with a full staff of one sergeant, two officers and two clinicians. According to the release, the unit works together to identify and follow up on calls to the police department in which a mental health crisis was included.
"The community has been extremely supportive of the city's Alternative Response to Mental Health program," Mayor Karla Brown stated in the release.
While all PPD officers do receive de-escalation and crisis intervention training, the alternate response unit differs in that they receive additional training on mental health services available and the Pleasanton Unified School District's medic first responder course.
Since January, the special unit has responded to over 367 calls for service in which only 96 of those interactions required the help of uniformed officers -- that helped free up police resources and reduced the number of psychiatric holds by 47%, according to city officials.
The unit has also helped place 50% of the city's unhoused population into permanent or long-term housing, according to city officials, saying that speaks to the unit's goals of providing the city's most vulnerable residents with more resources and to boost the community's overall response to behavioral and mental health
"I am proud of the city's commitment to finding and implementing a program that has made such a profound impact on the Pleasanton community, and the recognition it has received from the League of California Cities," Brown said.
Staff from the League of California Cities will be set to present the award to Pleasanton during the Oct. 17 Pleasanton City Council meeting.