Alleged homeless “dumping” examined by L.A. City Council committee

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A Los Angeles City Council committee today called for an expansion in local services for the mentally ill by police departments after an incident that one councilman described as a possible case of sheriff’s deputies “dumping” a mentally ill man, but which the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said was “an act of compassionate service.”

Councilman Joe Buscaino brought attention to the case in January after he displayed a video during a City Council meeting that appeared to show deputies dropping off a mentally ill man on a curb inside the L.A. city limits and driving off.

The incident, which occurred on West 25th Street in San Pedro on Jan. 30, was shown by Buscaino on a large screen inside the council chamber and also posted to his YouTube and Facebook accounts. The councilman said the man was a “clear 5150 patient” — the term refers to an involuntary psychiatric hold — and that the incident occurred a few blocks over the border from Rancho Palos Verdes, which is patrolled by the LASD.

While appearing before the Public Safety Committee, Capt. Dan Beringer of the LASD insisted the incident was not a case of deputies dumping the man into a nearby jurisdiction, but that they were simply trying to help him get to a train station. He also said they followed all of the department’s protocols and that the man did not meet the criteria to be put on a 5150 hold because he did not appear to be a danger to himself or others.

Beringer also said he was not a candidate to be arrested, despite the fact that there was a warrant out for his arrest. The man also refused mental health assistance or other services offered by the deputies, Beringer said.

Buscaino appeared to accept the LASD’s explanations at the meeting despite previous statements in which he said the incident was highly suspicious.

“This was appalling, disturbing and disgusting, and this individual was taken into LAPD custody two blocks down after a call for service was generated by a San Pedro resident,” Buscaino said in January.

At the Public Safety Meeting, Buscaino said, “Clearly the 5150 hold does not work today.”

Buscaino said the incident was an example of why the state needs to expand its definition of “gravely disabled” and pointed to a February vote where the Los Angeles City Council backed an effort by the county Board of Supervisors to sponsor state legislation that would allow social workers and law enforcement officers to detain severely mentally ill people who refuse life-saving medical treatment.

The video in question begins with the man, who appears disheveled and looks as if he could be talking to himself, already standing on the sidewalk near an open door of one of the LASD vehicles, and the person shooting the video from a balcony can be heard saying that the deputies just let the man out of the car.

Buscaino said the man was arrested after it was determined by the Los Angeles Police Department that he was wanted on a warrant — which the Los Angeles Times reported was a fare-evasion warrant. He also said in a statement on his Facebook account in January that “now is not the time to pawn off those with mental health issues onto adjacent jurisdictions, but rather, for all cities to step up to the plate and provide housing and services for the homeless immediately.”

Beringer said the man did not exhibit any danger to himself or others, was not gravely disabled and had not committed a crime. He also said he was not arrested because his offense was low level and he would have been released immediately by the county jail due to overcrowding.

The Public Safety Committee approved several recommendations made by Buscaino.

The recommendations included directing the Los Angeles police and fire departments to work with the county police and fire departments to develop a training program and implementation plan on standardized first responder training for the homeless; and to also report on ways to reduce homeless related non-emergency hospital admittance and jail intakes by expanding first responder pilot programs.

The committee also requested the city and county police departments to work with nonprofits to expand the “Jail In Reach” program to make it available to all homeless people incarcerated at the L.A. city and county jails. The program identifies homeless people in the jail system and offers them services, including mental health care and drug abuse treatment.

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