By Jessica Peralta
Garden Grove Police Officer Roger Flanders and Mental Health Specialist Peg Peterson walk up to the man sitting on a beach chair along the sidewalk, his belongings piled high next to him.
Peterson kneels down to talk to him at eye level, Flanders staying alert at her side. They speak with the man for several minutes before returning to the police car. Peterson is visibly saddened.
“He doesn’t want help,” she says.
It’s something the team must confront often in their work in the community bridging the city’s homeless population and others in need of mental health help with appropriate services.
When they are not responding to dispatch calls, they are driving out to locations frequented by those who they know are in need of mental health services. The library, senior center and Community Meeting Center are go-to spots for these populations because they provide the Internet, as well as various classes.
“Some folks really benefit from all those activities,” says Flanders.
Peterson and Flanders are going on two years as partners. Their partnership is part of a larger partnership between the County of Orange Health Care Agency and law enforcement. Members of the county’s Centralized Assessment Team (CAT) are assigned to police agencies like Garden Grove and are known as the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT). Peterson works with Garden Grove two days a week and Newport Beach one day a week. (CAT offers a 24/7 service at 1-866-830-6011.)
PERT clinicians like Peterson work hand-in-hand with officers as onsite mental health specialists equipped to evaluate cases of 5150 – an involuntary, temporary psychiatric hold when a person is a danger to self or others, or extremely disabled – to offer support to victims of crimes and accidents, assist families in cases of suicides and offer services to the mentally ill.
“We just look for any way we can be of service for the family, for the community, for law enforcement,” says Peterson.
Everyone Flanders and Peterson meets in the community receives an OC Links card, a one-stop referral contact for a number of Orange County mental health services.
Out on a call for a disturbance at an apartment complex on a recent Monday, Flanders and Peterson arrived to assist a patrol officer already on the scene with a woman who had been in an altercation with another tenant.
It wasn’t the first time Flanders and Peterson had met the woman – they had been out recently for a similar call and Peterson had concluded she was a 5150, and she was put on an involuntary hold. Despite that, according to Flanders, the woman readily spoke with Peterson on this second visit.
“That’s the beauty of Peg,” Flanders says. “She’s so much more trained than we are and she can kind of dig deeper.”
When a regular law enforcement visit might end with the officer telling the involved parties to avoid each other and stop fighting, a visit with a PERT clinician will involve a more thorough discussion and some recommendations for services to help resolve the larger issue, according to Flanders.
“She’s an extra tool in these cases to try to help [prevent] this kind of thing from … happening again,” he says.
Along those lines, follow-up is a big part of what Peterson does when out with officers. She checks in and sees how people are doing.
“Ultimately, we want to try and inject a solution before it becomes a problem,” says Peterson.
And there are success stories.
As Flanders and Peterson drove around looking for one of their regulars, they ran into a homeless woman who told Peterson she had been granted housing.
“Yay,” Peterson responded happily. “Congratulations on your housing.”
It’s that rapport with the community that makes PERT clinicians like Peterson a great asset to assisting in the mental health needs of the city.
“She builds that rapport,” says Flanders. “She really builds that bridge.”
This article was provided to the Orange County Tribune by Behind theBadge, a site devoted to coverage of law enforcement news, practices and personalities. See more at behindthebadgeoc.com .
Categories: Garden Grove