La Verne offers alternative response calls

Samira Felix
News Editor 

The San Gabriel Valley Crisis Assistance Response and Engagement Team began operations in the city of La Verne at the end of December 2023. Today the SGV CARE Team offers an alternative response to behavioral health-driven calls to reduce law enforcement workload. 

“We’re adding another tool to our toolbox and offering an extra layer of support to people that are experiencing a mental health crisis,” La Verne Police Department Acting Lt. Jay Alvarado said. 

San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments established the SGV CARE Team pilot program to respond and improve the outcomes of non-violent service calls and free law enforcement to respond to calls they are trained to handle. The initial program launched in summer 2022 in Arcadia, Montebello, San Marino and South Pasadena.

La Verne City Manager Ken Domer said although police officers are trained in de-escalation and mental health issues they are not professionals, so it is important to have a team that is trained for mental health situations to reach out  and engage with a person in need. 

The Team works with the La Verne Police and Fire Departments and it is composed of a clinician, drug and alcohol specialist and two EMTs. The Fire Department also provides an alternative response unit, which is an ambulance designated to the Team and its services. 

Currently the Team works from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. When calls go into the LVPD dispatch centers, depending on the criteria, the dispatchers will radio the Team and let them know about what is happening and the location. 

“They’re very well versed on dealing with the homeless population, but also mentally ill and the drug abuse situation,” La Verne Mayor Tim Hepburn said. “It’s a very great program. It’s working out well and it’s getting better and better.”

Alvarado said there has been a significant impact since the program began. 

During the first three months the Team saw nearly 40 calls and for half of those calls the alternative response unit was used to transport people. The alternative response unit will transport people to local hospitals where they will be medically cleared and then they are transferred to a facility that specializes in mental health. 

Alvarado said a couple dozen people were placed on 72 hour evaluations based on the outcome of the calls. 

“All those minutes this team spends with these people are really valuable because not only are they getting the extra care, but you’re freeing up law enforcement to serve the community,” Alvarado said. 

The city is currently working with the University of La Verne to establish a regional dispatch center that would be called during a mental health crisis instead of calling 911. The dispatch center would be for La Verne, Pomona, Claremont, San Dimas and Glendora. 

Hepburn said the city is working with University of La Verne President Pardis Mahdavi and her staff to figure out how they can utilize a piece of property for the SGV CARE Team and the dispatch center. 

“We’re looking forward to discussing and figuring out how we can do that,” Hepburn said. 

La Verne Community Services Director, Yvonne Duran said the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments is very happy with the La Verne SGV CARE program and the direction it is going. She said there are conversations about extending the program after the initial one year pilot program, but it will depend on funding. 

“We want to help these individuals, we don’t just want to tell them, ‘OK, go do this or call us back,’ if something happens’,” Duran said. “We’re really trying to provide resources and services for them and letting them know it’s okay to have these crises. It’s okay. It’s not that it’s normal, but we’re here to help. It’s okay. You don’t have to be scared.”

Samira Felix can be reached at samira.felix@laverne.edu.

Samira Felix, a junior journalism major with a concentration in print-online journalism, is news editor for the Campus Times. She previously served as a staff writer.

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