The next emergency call that Chula Vista Police officers respond to could be for a mental health incident.
Data from the Chula Vista Police Department show an increase in mental health calls to service in five of the last six years, with 1,539 calls in 2009, 1,777 in 2010, 1,836 reports in 2011 and 2,163 in 2012, with a dip in calls for service of 2,101 in 2013.
In the first three months of 2014, there have been 491 reported calls.
A recent report by the San Diego Association of Governments shows that in the last six years, San Diego County has seen a rise in mental health-related incidents.
According to SANDAG’s report, the four largest law enforcement agencies — Chula Vista, Oceanside and San Diego Police Departments and San Diego County Sheriff’s Department — responded to 22,315 mental health-related calls last year, which was more than the 21,876 incidents in 2012.
While authorities said they can’t single out a specific factor as to why mental health-related calls have spiked in recent years, they said that they have been addressing the situation.
“If there is an increase in awareness it’s only because there is more to be aware of, probably,” said CVPD Investigations Lt. Fritz Reber, who is also the city’s Psychiatric Emergency Response Team manager. “I have no idea of the causes.”
Reber notes that the county’s PERT program possibly contributes to the spike in numbers because it adds to the heightened awareness of mental health incidents.
PERT is a program that provides emergency assessment and referral for individuals with mental illness who come to the attention of law enforcement through phone calls from community members or in-field law enforcement requests for emergency assistance.
Cynthia Burke, director of SANDAG’s Applied Research Division, said a reason why mental health-related cases could have risen is because of the large number of veterans in San Diego County that deal with post traumatic stress disorder when they get out of the military.
She also said another contributing factor is that more people are getting out of state prison with mental health issues.
“This isn’t a new issue,” Burke said. “We’ve been hearing anecdotal information for a long time, that this was an issue that was increasing and taking up a lot of law enforcement resources,” she said.