Situational awareness is critical for a police officer, and when it comes to confronting a subject suffering from a mental illness or other behavioral issues, knowledge of the subject’s state of mind could help the officer de-escalate a possibly explosive situation. Now, a California county is using technology to help with that. 

Kern County is supporting its law enforcement officers and first responders with the deployment of Smart911’s enhanced profiles, which provide critical information on a subject’s mental health, addiction, and other issues that might aid the responder’s situational awareness.

The new Safety fields added to the Rave Mobile Smart911 technology help first responders and Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery Service respond to the homeless, transient and those with mental and cognitive issues or other problems that could complicate a response by law enforcement, fire or EMS.

Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery Services has been working for nearly a decade with law enforcement on a program called Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) with the goal of trying to keep everyone safe during encounters between law enforcement and the public, especially vulnerable or troubled members of the public. 

The new technology solution adds a critical dimension to this equation by providing much more information to dispatchers and first responders before an encounter.

“In a typical 911 call, you get a location, some details about what may be going down, you’ll get a name, but for the most part, that’s it, so you’re walking into a situation blind,” said Kern County Public Information Officer Roger Perez. “With Smart911, there’s a tremendous set of tools given to the officer right there in the vehicles before going into the situation.”

The profile could include anything that might help in understanding what a first responder might find, including pets, someone who is bedridden or someone who recently suffered a broken leg.

“You can get as simple as, ‘My grandfather is bedridden and he’s upstairs, so if there’s a fire, please get him out,’” Perez said. “You can go in and change [the profile] anytime.”

The profiles include subsections where registrants can note such things as previous reports of erratic behavior, suicide attempts, having heard voices, and drug prescriptions.

Perez said CIT started as a “dream,” noting that it’s not common to have such a connection between the two entities. The CIT program provides at least 40 hours a year of training to law enforcement on how to handle these difficult-to-handle situations.

Behavioral Health and Recovery Services has a mobile evaluation team in the field that works with law enforcement, who can call in the mobile team to help with an intervention, if necessary. Perez said the deployment began last summer and will include all the county's police, fire and EMS personnel within the next couple of weeks.

A key part of the deployment added addiction information to the profiles and more details about the person and the nature of the substance abuse situation. Also, whereas previously an address was needed to register, those who are homeless can register via a general area, said Rave spokesperson Katharine Dahl.

Behavioral health and substance abuse are often tied together with homelessness. That’s why Behavioral Health and Recovery Services staff actively seek homeless individuals and try to get them to register via the mobile app.

“One of the positive things we’ve found is that a lot of homeless people have cellphones,” he said. “We have several outreach teams that go out and deal with the homeless and get them registered.”