BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — They may not bear a blue badge but they’re important in keeping our city safe.
Behavioral health clinicians on dispatch teams are pretty unique to Bakersfield and are already proving to make a difference.
City Councilmember Eric Arias said that those who dispatch and answer the calls to a scene don’t get paid as much as some of their county colleagues. There’s already significant dispatcher turnover, so they hope changes will keep them around.
“Our police officers are dealing with incredibly intense, difficult situations. Every day, and we know that there’s a tremendous amount of mental health in the community,” said Stacy Kuwahara, Behavioral Health Director, Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery Services.
In some cases, Kuwahara said a behavioral health clinician may be the right person to answer those calls.
“Sometimes having a behavioral health worker there, whether providing the training, where they’re on scene, or we can be there on the phone, sometimes cannot be as intimidating for some people.”
Right now, one of Kern BHRS health clinicians work side by side with Bakersfield Police Department dispatchers to take 911 calls.
“Ideally, if someone is not in an imminent crisis, and doesn’t need police to respond on scene, but can utilize the behavioral health interventions that we’re offering. We can connect them to services and free up some of those officers from having to respond to those calls.”
uwahara said this program is trailblazing.
“It’s really not happening anywhere else; this was truly an innovative pilot. They invited us in, and it’s been incredibly successful. So, BPD is actually proposing to add two more clinicians, so they have 24/7 coverage on their team.”
As far as City Councilmembers Eric Arias and Chis Parlier are concerned, four would be better.
“I’m excited to share that 60% of those calls that go through the behavioral health commission, never make it to law enforcement at the end of the day. A lot of them get returned to behavioral health so they can send out what’s known as the MET team, MET team, for the more serious circumstances,” said Councilmember Eric.
This is a part of what Arias calls “public safety enhancements.” Also, on that list, making sure all dispatchers are paid for their part in keeping our citizens safe.
It was after touring the city, fire, and police dispatchers that they discovered how dispatchers on the city level are paid about 25% less than their county equivalents.
“We’re actually seeing a lot of turnover for city dispatchers. It’s already an incredibly stressful job, taking those emergency calls and dispatching the appropriate resources, and it being nonstop.”
Due to this initiative having a fiscal impact, Arias said they’re working within council to see how this fits into the city’s budget.