By Ray Richardson
LOS ANGELES — Mayor Karen Bass wants all Los Angeles police officers to receive training on how to handle potential mental health situations.
Speaking to members of Los Angeles Black media organizations on Feb. 13, Bass said she has asked Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore to submit a report on his specific plans to improve the department’s responses to calls involving mental health situations and plans for specialized mental health training for all LAPD officers by June 1.
“I want to know when will everybody be trained, who’s doing the training and what measures of accountability will be in place moving forward,” Bass said during the one-hour session.
Bass is pushing for more mental health capabilities within LAPD after incidents in the first week of January resulted in the deaths of Takar Smith, Oscar Leon Sanchez and Keenan Anderson. All three were believed to be having mental issues and were not in possession of a firearm when they were confronted by LAPD officers.
Smith and Sanchez were fatally shot by officers. Anderson was Tased multiple times by officers and died several hours later at a hospital.
Accounts from the victims’ family members and body camera footage from officers revealed that the three men may have been dealing with some type of mental issues.
Bass said she has gotten “assurances” from Moore that he wants to address her concerns and those of the Black community.
“I support Chief Moore based on certain factors,” Bass said. “The biggest factor is I’m insisting that mental health is part of the training for all officers. LAPD did not call for mental health assistance with Takar. Had the officers been accompanied by mental health staff or a social worker, the situation would not have escalated.”
Bass confirmed that approximately $7 million has been appropriated from the city budget specifically for mental health components in law enforcement. Community leaders are hoping the money is used to develop mental health units known as “therapeutic vans,” vehicles that contain a trained mental health professional, a social worker and a medical person.
Los Angeles County utilizes five such vehicles. Although five is a limited number based on the county’s population, Black Lives Matter-LA President Melina Abdullah said the service, when deployed, is “extremely effective.”
“That service might have saved Takar,” Abdullah said. “The vans are for the county, but we’re trying to get the service expanded throughout the city. There needs to be a different kind of dispatch from LAPD.
“We want an independent response when it comes to mental health situations. Sending people with guns should not be the answer in cases like that.”
Bass met with Black Lives Matter-LA members and about 30 community leaders on Feb. 10 to discuss the LAPD’s mental health approach and other concerns. Bass agreed to meet with the group on a quarterly basis throughout her term in office.
“There are council members and people on the Police Commission who support us on improving mental health responses,” Abdullah said. “We’re not going to let up. We have to keep working on it.”
Bass has named Brian Williams as deputy mayor of public safety to assist her administration with mental health initiatives inside LAPD, as well as other law enforcement and safety agendas for the city.
Williams, who serves as executive director of the county Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Commission, will also oversee the city Fire Department, the Port of Los Angeles Police, the Los Angeles World Airport Police and the Emergency Management Department.
Williams is among several deputy mayor appointees recently made by Bass, including Jenna Hornstock, named deputy mayor of Hhousing. Hornstock, currently serving as deputy director of planning for land use for the Southern California Association of Governments, is helping lead Bass’ aggressive game plan in addressing the city’s homeless crisis.
Bass updated Black media members on the Inside Safe Initiative, a $50 million project that is supporting city efforts to end encampments. The project refers homeless citizens to temporary lodging in hotels before permanent housing is arranged.
“By the end of this week, we’re hoping to house about 300 people,” Bass said. “We’re constantly looking for city-owned property that we can develop into supportive housing or apartments.”
Bass declared a state of emergency on her first day in office to deal with the city’s homeless problem. Housing for the homeless was a major campaign issue for Bass and chief rival Rick Caruso.
Bass told Black media members that resolving the homeless crisis will be a “permanent part of the mayor’s office.”
“In the past council members had to fend for themselves on homelessness,” Bass said. “We’re building a strong alliance with state, county and federal government.”
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at email@example.com.