SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — The San Jose Police Department is launching a new unit aimed at de-escalating situations involving people going through a mental health crisis.

This week, San Jose Police Officers with specialized mental health training are hitting the streets to work side by side with clinicians from the county’s Mobile Crisis Response team.

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“And so we would have an expert, a clinician on the scene and able to assist the officers. This is really the wave of the future,” said Police Chief Eddie Garcia.

Recent studies show about ten percent of police calls nation-wide involve someone going through a mental health crisis.

In 2014, 19-year-old Diana Showman was in a mental crisis when she approached San Jose officers and pointed a cordless drill which she painted black to look like a gun during a standoff on Blossom Hill Road.

“She raised her hand and she was shot right in the chest with an AR-15,” said Diana’s father, Jim Showman. He called the launch of the new police unit encouraging.

“I believe, had it been de-escalated by somebody else with better training, there would have been a better outcome,” he said.

The officers and clinicians will work together on the streets to assess the situation and respond accordingly.

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“They’re able to do crisis screening, crisis assessment, crisis intervention, verbal de-escalation,” said Mikelle Le, a manager with the Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Department.

Besides the additional training, officers in the unit will wear special identifying uniforms but will still be fully armed.

“It’s not the tools on our belt, but being able to communicate with them and get them the help they need,” said Officer Emerald Perkins, a member of the
new unit.

But some family members of people shot by police are skeptical.

Sharon Watkins, whose son Phillip was killed by an SJPD officer in 2015 during a mental health crisis in which his girlfriend called 911, said police did not consult with the families of victims.

“It’s imperative that you speak with someone who went through this, and the things they feel went wrong. But we were totally ignored,” said Watkins.

The mental health unit is a pilot program with room to evolve, for now 18 officers will be assigned to the unit on a rotating basis for two days a week.

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Funding for the project comes from a grant from the state Department of Justice.