The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department vigorously defended the work of its Mental Evaluation Team (MET) program on Monday night at a forum it co-hosted with the City of West Hollywood.
The virtual listening and Q&A session was organized to connect local leaders with public feedback about experiences with sheriff’s deputies and how the community feels about public safety — specifically, law enforcement response to mental health situations and homelessness in West Hollywood.
The MET program provides crisis intervention and targeted case management services to defuse potentially violent situations, as well as placing people with mental illness in psychiatric facilities, or linking them to outpatient services. They also perform in-service training for de-escalation, crisis negotiations during major incidents, averting use of force and reducing incarceration.
The public comments at the meeting included some sharp allegations.
“The Sheriff’s Department is incredibly racist and classist,” said Jordan David. “Their efforts are focused on terrorizing black, indigenous, and people of color along with anyone who is poor or unhoused.”
David brought up claims that gangs had infiltrated the department, and demanded that deputies “show us your tats” to prove otherwise.
Capt. John Gannon stepped in to defend the department.
“The data shows that MET has consistently saved and prevented the loss of life, let alone the loss of injuries, through potential uses of force,” he said. “Last year alone, because MET units were arriving in time to change the trajectory of the incident, 434 uses of force were averted.”
“For the record,” said Lt. Ryan Vienna, “I have no tattoos.”
“Can you speak to the impact of homeless encampment sweeps on your ability to maintain contact with vulnerable unhoused people that are displaced by them?” asked commenter William Seegmiller.
Lt. Vienna pointed to the Ramp program which was employed during recent encampment sweeps in Venice as evidence of their commitment to meaningful case management and successful outcomes.
“It’s important to the sheriff that we do that outreach in a way that is humane,” Vienna said. “He understands the underlying mental health issues that sometimes can plague our homeless populations.”
But the MET teams are just one cog in the machine, Capt. Gannon explained. “The MET teams are really there for the acute crisis that we encounter in the field and then they return to service.
“We count on our providers to provide them with the prescribed care, but unfortunately many of these prescribed treatments are voluntary and a lot of people just walk out once the time expires and we’re back into the same cyclical nature.”