Crisis Response Program ‘CARE’ | City Council Seeks Better Utilization & Outreach

Screencap: Joshua Heinzman, LACADA Director of Homeless Outreach. Crisis Assistance Response and Engagement (CARE) program update presentation to South Pasadena City Council April 17, 2024.

Frustrated with the chronic under-utilization and constrained outreach of the city’s experimental alternative to police responses for mental and behavioral health crises, the City Council last week directed staff to rework a draft agreement for South Pasadena’s continued participation in the program. With existing grants expiring next year and the prospects for renewal uncertain, the city faces having to fund the program itself at a cost roughly estimated at $200,000 per year.

The biggest changes are likely to be a plan to “co-locate” the two-member Crisis Assistance Response and Engagement (CARE) team a few days a week alongside the city’s dispatch center and introduction of a component allowing it to engage proactively, rather than only when called in with police.

CARE is administered by the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (SGVCOG), staffed by the Los Angeles Centers for Alcohol and Drug Abuse (LACADA) and funded through June 2025 with about $2.2 million in federal, state and county funds. It has three unarmed “teams” that serve five cities, including one that serves South Pasadena, San Marino and Arcadia (the “cohort cities”).

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Since commencing in 2022, utilization of the CARE team in South Pasadena has averaged 8 calls per month. Despite figures showing growth over the last 12 months, Council Member Michael Cacciotti complained of the “dismally low” number of calls the team has fielded here—as little as one a week. Time spent on calls for the four months ending in February averaged 86 minutes. The team spends the balance of its 42 hours power week training, having meetings and following up previous calls, CARE officials told the Council.

Cacciotti, who in December asked staff for a report on the city’s participation in the program,  recounted its ramp up since an initial SGVCOG vote in 2019, a series of meetings, finally getting under way in August 2022. The team handled two calls a week its first six months and about four per week the second six months. He said it rejected various recommendations he made and declined offers for office space at Holy Family where many of its clients congregate. Now volume is up to perhaps one call a day, so it’s still “not being utilized properly. It’s incredibly costly. It doesn’t add up.”

Cacciotti is especially unhappy that the team hesitates from initiating engagements on its own. He acknowledged new staff’s been brought in and that his “tough questions” were “not reflective” of the current team, which he praised. But he wants the program to succeed, “to get out there. Get with the police. Let people see who you are. Don’t hide in an office in the middle of nowhere, at Huntington and Rosemead where it’s a parking lot. Get in the community!”

But CARE “was not designed to be an outreach team as much as a 911 response team,” explained Joshua Heinzman, LACADA Director of Homeless Outreach. That’s because there are two other programs that are proactive, he said. Moreover call utilization is higher in at least one of the other cities CARE serves—La Verne—because there the team is “embedded full time.”

Another factor is “it takes law enforcement a lot of time to get used to working” with CARE, Heinzman added. “It takes a bit for them to trust, have confidence in, and want to utilize us.”

There are three models for mobile crisis teams–”co-response,” in which both police and the team are dispatched together; “dispatch for assist,” in which police go out and have the mobile team called in as needed; and “alternative,” in which the team is dispatched by itself. South Pasadena currently uses the co-response model. Last winter transition to an alternate model was discussed but the cohort cities “were not interested” in using it, according to a city staff report.

However SPPD Lt. Shannon Robledo and Leah Demarest, the city’s senior planner for housing programs, both told the Council there’d been discussion of “co-locating” the CARE team at SPPD’s offices a day or two per week. Demarest said doing so “would be a good way to build more connections” and help officers, dispatchers and CARE team members “learn from and see how they can help each other.” SPPD Chief Brian Solinsky told the Council he’s willing to bring the team “into our facility and assigning an officer as much as possible to them.”

City Manager Arminé Chaparyan said there’s been discussion of introducing the CARE team to others who encounter persons with mental or behavioral health issues, such as local business and city staff at the library and community service facilities.

There’s also been talk of CARE being more proactive—current program design only allows the team to self-dispatch when dealing with people it’s previously encountered. “A more concerted expansion” would require tinkering with program design, the staff report said. But police officials are  hesitant to sign off on self-dispatch due to safety concerns.

The Council ultimately directed staff to work with SGVCOG on possible adjustments to the proposed agreement providing for co-location, inclusion of a more proactive component, increased training opportunities among the parties, expanding program hours, revisiting the criteria for the types of calls dispatchers can refer CARE teams for, and to consider enabling library and community service officials to call on the CARE team without having to go through police dispatch.

Council Member Jon Primuth also asked staff to consider adoption of a set of performance indicators.



Ben Tansey
Ben Tansey is a journalist and author. He grew up in the South Bay and is a graduate of Evergreen State College. He worked in Washington State as a reporter in a rural timber community and for many years as an editor for a Western electric energy policy publication based in Seattle.