Skip to main content

LATEST UPDATES: Racial Justice | Tracking COVID-19 (coronavirus)

Rethinking Mental Health Emergencies

Cover image for podcast episode

PHOTO BY MIKE DAMRON

Above: San Diego police officers monitor protesters during a demonstration against police brutality, San Diego, June 1, 2020.

As a movement to "defund police" travels across the country, one potential target for budget cuts is removing police from mental health calls. Many activists, health officials and some elected leaders say police are the wrong people to be responding to these calls. KPBS reporter Claire Trageser says the details on how that would work are being explored in San Diego County. Plus: the La Mesa Police Department has released body camera footage from a use-of-force incident that left a grandmother blind in one eye, some San Diego gyms are defying County health orders and staying open and more local news you need.

San Diego News Matters is KPBS’ daily news podcast. Support the show: https://www.kpbs.org/donate

Ever since Governor Newsom issued the first stay at home order in March, business owners have had to navigate a series of changing health orders.

For the second time several weeks ago, North Park Fitness owner Lewis Wiggins followed the rules and closed his doors. But even as he's losing thousands of dollars a week, Wiggins says following the orders was not a hard decision.

"It would be that much more devastating if one of my members, one of my employees, myself caught COVID 19."

But several other San Diego gyms are defying County health orders and staying open.
On Wednesday, the County announced that a "safe reopening compliance team" was being organized. Supervisor Greg Cox says it will help businesses navigate County health orders, and enforce the rules against those that refuse to follow them.

***

A Chula Vista church that challenged California's COVID-19 restrictions in a legal fight that went before the U.S. Supreme Court has filed an amended complaint...meaning it is continuing its effort to get churches reopened during the pandemic.

South Bay United Pentecostal Church and its pastor, Arthur Hodges, filed the new complaint last week in San Diego federal court.
It’s been just two months since they lost their first case when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to uphold COVID-19 restrictions placed on religious gatherings by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

This time, the church is renewing its objections to the state order by taking aim at alleged favoritism by authorities when they allowed police protests that began in late May following the death of George Floyd.

***
The San Diego Foundation gave a $75,000 grant to a local culinary training nonprofit yesterday to help provide meals to vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kitchens for Good trains people coming from incarceration, homelessness and foster care to work in the culinary industry. The grant is from the San Diego Foundation's COVID-19 Community Response Fund.

***
From KPBS, I’m Kinsee Morlan and you’re listening to San Diego News Matters, a podcast powered by our reporters, producers and editors.

It’s Friday, July 24.

Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

The La Mesa Police Department has released body camera footage from a use-of-force incident that left a grandmother blind in one eye.

KPBS reporter Max Rivlin-Nadler tells us more about the shooting that took place during protests over police violence nearly two months ago.

The video released by La Mesa police shows Detective Eric Knudson taking aim at 59-year-old Leslie Furcron. He hits her with a bean bag round in the face, and she crumbles to the ground.

From almost 100 yards away, Knudson identifies Furcron as male and says they were throwing objects at officers.

That guy, that was the guy that was throwing things.

Furcron's attorney, Dante Pride, says the video is trying to create a narrative that officers were shooting at Furcron in self-defense.

1:30
Never have I received something like the La Mesa Police Department produced. What they produced was a cinematic production, put together by a PR person to try to paint a picture that the use of force against Ms. Furcron was justified.

Detective Knudson has been placed on paid administrative leave while the incident remains under investigation.

***

Community groups have begun conversations with Carlsbad police about their tactics,

KPBS Reporter Erik Anderson says the violent arrest of a Black man in June sparked calls for reform.

Community activists are sounding hopeful notes after meeting with Carlsbad Police in the wake of 27 year old Marcel Cox-Harshaw's mid-June arrest. He was tased repeatedly during a June 11th arrest. Yusef Miller represents the North County Civil Liberties Commission. He says Carlsbad Police agreed to look at body cameras, a community review board, and access to police disciplinary records.

CBADTASER 2A :10
00:26 -- 00:36 "We're pulling these things together to make sure we look out for the best interest of the community and law enforcement in general. We're going to make sure we meet in the future with open transparency"

An assistant police chief did meet with community advocates, but the department chief did not. Carlsbad police said in a statement they will continue to work with the community to address any shortcomings.

After the release of a report claiming high rates of sexual harassment among patients and staff at the VA, Congress is demanding accountability.

KPBS Military Reporter Steve Walsh says local female vets have pushed for action.

A GAO audit says nearly 1 out of four VA employees say they've been subjected to unwanted sexual comments or harassment. A VA study found a similar pattern among women patients.

Paula Kemp, a Navy Vet founded Veteran Sisters after her experiences at the VA in San Diego County.

"It's taken years and years and years for anyone to listen. And it gets brushed off onto the female, well what did you do."

Kemp tried to report her doctor in Oceanside, who was contracted by the VA. Eventually four other patients came forward. Her 2019 case against Dr. Edgar Man-za-nera was listed as one of recent incidents by a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee.

"We're the fastest growing population in the military too. So they've got to get ready and create a program that is more sensitive to the female veteran unique issues."

She says the VA needs more women providers and programs that allow female vets to receive treatment away from their male counterparts.

***
As a movement to "defund police" echoes in demonstrations across the country, one potential target for budget cuts is taking police off mental health calls.

Many activists, health officials and some elected leaders say police are the wrong people to be responding to these calls.

KPBS reporter Claire Trageser says the details on how that would work are being explored in San Diego County.

On a Tuesday in September 2016, Alfred Olango, grieving the loss of a childhood friend, was in the midst of a mental breakdown. Olango’s sister, fearing for his safety, did the only thing she felt she could at the time -- call 911. When officers with the El Cajon Police Department arrived at the scene, Olango pointed a vape pen at them. Mistaking it for a gun, one of the officers shot him dead.

The killing sparked days of protest and renewed calls to reform how authorities respond to mental health calls. Yet, nearly four years after Olango’s death, if a call comes in regarding someone in a mental health crisis in San Diego County, they will most likely be visited by a police officer.

However, it’s not like this everywhere. In Eugene Oregon, Ebony Morgan is more likely to show up for a mental health call than an officer with a badge and a gun. Morgan is a crisis worker for CAHOOTS, a nonprofit program that partners with Eugene’s police department.
When she gets a call, she goes to the scene with an EMT partner and first assesses the situation to ensure it's safe.

EBONY MORGAN
CAHOOTS CRISIS WORKER
SOT 00:05:42:01
"From there, I just start asking questions, my first question is, 'how can I support you, what are you trying to do and what do you need.'"

For example, if she responds to a person who is having a psychotic episode and is wandering in the middle of the street, she'll say...

SOT 00:08:22:17
"We're in the middle of the street, we can't stay here, this isn't safe, can you walk to the sidewalk and tell me what's going on?"

The CAHOOTS program has a team of 50 and costs about $2.1 million a year, or about 3% of the Eugene Police Department's annual budget. San Diego Police's budget for fiscal 2021 is more than $566 million—if 3% were diverted to a similar program, it would cost $17 million, which is about half of what the department spent on officer overtime in the last fiscal year.

KHALID ALEXANDER
PILLARS OF THE COMMUNITY
SOT 00:14:39:11
"We can't even imagine a world where mental health professionals deal with mental health issues."

Khalid Alexander is the founder of the San Diego criminal justice reform advocacy organization Pillars of the Community.

SOT con't
"We can't imagine a world where money goes to schools instead of militarizing police and arming them with military equipment."

He says programs like CAHOOTS shouldn’t be seen as a major police reform, but just good common sense.

County leaders are starting to come around to Alexander’s point of view in the wake of massive protests that have erupted here and throughout the country in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police officers.

NATHAN FLETCHER
SAN DIEGO COUNTY SUPERVISOR
SOT 00:08:35:05
"If we have an individual, someone outside swimming in the fountain and they're having a huge problem, say they're swinging an axe around and are either a danger to themselves or others, then you need to call 911."

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher is working to create mental health crisis teams to respond to some calls.

SOT 00:09:10:11
"The problem is if the individual is not a danger to themselves or others, right now there's no other option for them other than to call 911."

Fletcher estimates the program would cost $10 million a year, and would be used by all local police departments. He says it would save money by cutting the police cars and fire engines that are often sent to mental health calls.

SOT 00:09:59:00
"The other problem is the presence of law enforcement has the potential of escalating a situation, when we need to deescalate."

NAT POP Homeless Outreach Team
https://www.kpbs.org/news/2014/mar/25/san-diego-police-officers-15-years-homeless-coming/
1:20
"You good man? I've talked to you before, a whole bunch of times."

Sgt. Rick Schnell led the department's Homeless Outreach Team for 15 years and retired a few years ago. He and his officers had a lot of training on mental health issues.

RICK SCHNELL
RETIRED SAN DIEGO POLICE SERGEANT
SOT 14;53;03;25
"It was clear that we needed to do mental health training with the officers, PERT was starting to really pick up."

That's the county's Psychiatric Emergency Response Team. He says even if San Diego establishes its own version of CAHOOTS, it couldn't completely take the place of police on mental health calls.

SOT 14;54;56;28
"When it's 3 a.m. and someone is having mental health issues, who else are you going to call? Police are coming."

Instead, he advocates for more training for police officers and hiring officers who can maintain calm. When an officer shows up in his or her blue uniform with a gun and a badge, that automatically escalates a situation, he says.

SOT
"Police have to understand how intimidating we can be, and it's on us to calm people down. 14;58;20;11 If you're angry inside, this is not the job for you."


KPBS investigative reporter Claire Trageser.

***
Coming up…

Pandemic pods...how some parents are teaming up to take on distance learning…

Plus, some tips for navigating Comic-Con’s online offerings.

Those stories after the break.

***
Comic-Con is online and anyone can access more than 300 hours of pop culture programming.

KPBS arts reporter and long-time Comic-Con attendee Beth Accomando previews some of the panels available through Comic-Con at home.

The coronavirus pandemic has shutdown cinemas and movie productions so there will not be any big Hollywood panels in Hall H or even online at this year's Comic-Con@Home.

But there's still an amazing array of diverse panels available on YouTube. Movie celebrities such as Charlize Theron and Guillermo del Toro will be spotlighted. You can also choose from panels on Afrofuturism, Queer Horror, LGBTQ comics, Bugs Bunny's 80th birthday, and Ultra Lawyer Kaiju Patrol. Plus panels on shows like The Boys, Mythic Quest, and What We Do in the Shadows. The one I am looking forward to most is from "World War Z" author Max Brooks about Zombies and Coronavirus.

MAX BROOKS: Zombies are a great metaphor for this pandemic because they spread just like a plague. You have issues of infection, you have issues of protecting your loved ones, you also have big issues like a zombie plague shutting down the economy, people fearing for their livelihoods as well as their lives. Unlike other horror monsters, which tend to be very small and intimate, zombies are big and so is this plague.

You can check out all the panels as well as the virtual art show, exhibit hall, and more by going to comic-dash-con-dot-org.

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando.

Comic-Con at home continues through Sunday with many panels remaining online indefinitely.

***
Parents teachers, politicians, employers, and students have all been saying the same thing since schooling moved to home computers in the spring.

Kids need to get back in classrooms as much for the social benefits as for the book learning, but that's not going to happen anytime soon in San Diego and most of the nation amid this pandemic.

So some parents have gotten creative and started teaming up to teach kids.

KPBS Roundtable’s Mark Sauer talked with Kristen Taketa, education reporter for the San Diego Union Tribune about the emerging trend.

So we're talking about learning pods or pandemic pods is summer called explain the idea behind this.

Yeah, they're also kind of sometimes called micro schools, but that's basically what it is, is like a mini classroom or a mini school. And they kind of take on different forms, but basically it's a small group of children. And their families are usually the one organizing this, but it's a small group of kids that meet basically for classes like that.

It's either parents might be leading the pod or they might hire teachers or tutors to help lead the pod. But basically there's an adult, at least one adult there, helping the kids with distance learning assignments that they get from their school district or from their school, or they're just helping them with learning in general or some, some of the pods are.

More just for social reasons. Yeah. Um, just to get kids together so that they have some, you know, social outlet or some chances to have play dates with other kids, just because everyone's been so isolated with these schools closures. And that's like one of the main concerns that everyone is having is that the closures are impacting students' mental health.

So this is supposed to be, this is meant to be one of the solutions for that. Yeah. Life can't be all done on screens alone. So you interviewed Lauren home and the mother of a second grader in San Marcos about forming her pod. Tell us what she's organized. How does it work? Yeah, so she organized her pod by basically.

Getting in touch with parents. She knows through her school already, her child's school fortunate in that she already had that kind of a network. So the parents basically just organized it together. There's since it's going to be led by the parents themselves, they are not going to have. Fees like a lot of other pods will in terms of fees for teachers or tutors.

But Lauren is also fortunate in that she herself was a teacher and she said one of the other parents in her pod is also a teacher. So they have that benefit of already having. Uh, teaching experience to help lead the pod. And so, yeah, the parents basically we'll just take turns leading the pod and hosting it either in a backyard, their home backyard or at a park, they'll take turns, hosting it and watching over the kids.

And, um, there's about roughly half a dozen. Kids at a time in the pot, I believe. And so it's kind of like a parent sharing parents sharing the responsibility of teaching and watching the kids. So it's like a sharing, uh, effort and another parent, your story said he was so desperate. He was considering moving to another country to get his kids back in school.

Tell us about Scott wrap and his experience. Yeah. So Scott is actually started the local, one of the local San Diego pod chapters over the weekend. After he heard that governor Newsome is keeping schools in San Diego County closed until our covert gets better. But yeah, in the beginning, as he was leading up to the governor's announcement, he was considering he was going to move to a private school because he thought that a private school would be more able to have in person school then.

Uh, the school district he was in. So he's been really, he's been really wanting and person's school for his kids because they're so young. I think his oldest is five years old, so, and he said, you know, the education that happens when kids are so little, it's a lot of it. Like most of it is social. It's not even learning a math and English really it's.

Learning how to work with other kids and, um, you know, having that, building those social skills. So he was really concerned about not having that. So, yeah, he, at one point he was even considering moving his family to Sweden where they didn't close schools because in his family also used to travel and they could work from home.

But yeah, so he was. Very desperate to find a in person option. So the pod was what he came up with since that was the most realistic one he could focus on right now. So as you say, Lauren Homan has experienced as a teacher, but some other pods are hiring tutors that can get pricey for parents. Right?

Definitely. I mean, the rates. Are kind of all over the map, but, um, I've seen number of rates over $50 an hour. And so that's where, you know, we can kind of get into these questions of equity because if you don't have somebody who is, who has that teaching experience or is able to lead a pod, then, then at that point, it's almost like it could be a resource that is only available to families who can afford the extra money and pay for it.

All this extra support for their kids. And I mean, that just goes with the whole narrative of equity that's been going on since the pandemic started for schools. In every case, it's students who are more disadvantaged, who are from low income families or who have other. Just odds, stacked against them.

They're less likely to be able to succeed in this very difficult environment for everybody. So there are a PR, uh, I think Scott rep, uh, estimated that pandemic part of could cost as much as $270 a week per student. So that. Totals up to a lot of money for some families now pushing eight, 900, a thousand dollars a month, I can get really pricey.

And that is, that is the argument though that, uh, some kids who have advantages over low income students anyway, because their parents and yeah. There are neighborhood schools and what they can afford in school. And it's kind of the same thing when you get into this private pod situation, right. And just in terms of like how much time and how much time the parents have to even dedicate to forming these extra resources.

That's, um, another resource as well right now, but this is obviously temporary. Once there are more effective treatments, hopefully we get an effective vaccine. COVID 19. Be behind us at some point. And what's wrong with parents doing, doing all they can now to further kids' education and socialization, I guess that would be the counter arguing.

Yeah. I see a lot of people saying those, both of those things. I mean, on the one hand, a lot of people worry about the equity aspect, but on the other it's like, they're, it's, it's almost like everybody is struggling in some way. And parents are, a lot of parents really are facing that challenge of. You know, working full time, but also trying to figure out something to improve the distance, improve the, their kids is learning experiences from the spring because the spring was just chaos for a lot of families.

So there, this is. One of the emerging solutions that families are turning to. And I mean, all the, um, all the families talk to you, they just want a better experience for their kids. And some of their kids are just suffering emotionally because of the school closures. And. Yeah. So some people are just arguing, you know, if they're, if they're able to do this, then why wouldn't they for their, for their kids?

Yeah, sure. No, you're sure. I also notes these pods could technically be in violation of the governor's order against group gatherings beyond the immediate family. How to pot organizers get around that. Yeah. So that's a little bit of a, it seems like a tricky situation there because yeah, you're right. The health County health order, technically.

Prohibits gatherings of two army people from not who are not in the same household. So, I mean, one parent are you that these pods are basically the same as a childcare program. And childcare programs are allowed to stay open as long as they can have small cohorts or groups of students. And they follow, they have to post a reopening plan, which I don't know if.

All of these pods would necessarily do since is a pretty informal group of families. But, um, yeah, there are parents arguing that these are like childcare programs. These are like, Akin to the summer camp programs that might, that might still be happening. So, yeah, so that's, I think that's the main argument I've seen.

So it is a little unclear. And, uh, before wrapping up, I wanted to ask you about another story you did involving a conservative attorney in our group. That's suing governor Newsome over his order, closing clean classrooms for the time being, because of COVID-19 who is she? And what's the thrust of her lawsuit.

Yeah. So the loss of is being learned by this group called center for American Liberty. That group is led by Harmeet Dhillon, who is a member of the Republican national committee. And she's an attorney. So their argument for that lawsuit is that by Newsome, forcing schools to close, and most of the States counties that is effectively denying.

The kids in those counties, meaningful education by blocking them for the chance to have in school. And then the lawsuit includes several families who are plaintiffs and who are, you know, just have stories of how the school closures have really harmed there. Kids either in terms of social or mental development or in terms of academics or both.

And so this is kind of going along with that home pushback or arguments against the school closures and that desperation of parents who want in person school again, is Harmeet Dhillon, inner group, likely to get anywhere with this lawsuit. I'm not sure I'm not, I wouldn't. Be the best to say, but, um, the governor's office response to this lawsuit, the governor mentioned that like no federal court has so far ruled against the governor's COVID actions.

So I, I mean, I think the governor is just saying that our, the governor's office is saying that he did this school closure order in using his emergency authority, um, regarding COVID. So, and he did do this because he said. You know, this is necessary for keeping students and staff safe. And this is just happening in the midst of the ongoing Corona virus surge.

And so a lot of people are saying that they wouldn't be comfortable and going back to school because of the growing coronavirus cases. Yeah. The way it is in the midst of a public health crisis. I've been speaking with union Tribune, education reporter, Kristen Takita. Thanks, Kristen. Very much. Yeah.

And that was Kristen Taketa, education reporter for the San Diego Union Tribune, talking with KPBS Roundtable’s Mark Sauer. Hear more interviews with local journalists and editors by subscribing to KPBS Roundtable wherever you listen to podcasts.

Thanks for listening. Have a nice, safe weekend.

San Diego News Matters podcast branding

San Diego News Matters

KPBS' daily news podcast covering local politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings so you can listen on your morning commute.