sfpd_cityhall.jpgThe rollout of a new team of San Francisco police officers to handle crisis situations involving mentally ill suspects could begin as soon as June after the Police Commission discusses a timeline for the program at its meeting tonight, a police commissioner said today.

The crisis intervention team, which will follow a model set up by the Memphis Police Department in the 1980s, would be deployed as first responders or co-responders to mental health calls to the Police Department.

In February, the seven-member commission unanimously voted to create the team, and the group working on the program is set to make their first report back to the commission during tonight’s meeting at City Hall.

Commissioner Angela Chan, who helped spearhead the proposal, said a timeline for the rollout of the program would be discussed tonight.

Chan said there could be crisis intervention teams at three of the Police Department’s district stations–likely the Mission, Southern and Tenderloin stations–as soon as June and at all stations citywide by the end of the year.

She said organizers of the program, a collaboration of the Police Department and mental health officials, have to finish developing the training and application process for officers who would join the teams.

The training will likely include interaction with mentally ill patients, lessons on identifying symptoms of mental illness, and developing verbal de-escalation skills.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done before that’s finalized,” Chan said, adding that the outlook for the program is “promising.”

“There’s a lot of goodwill and collaboration that’s occurring right now,” she said.

The program was created in the wake of two shootings of mentally ill suspects in San Francisco within a week of each other in late December and early January.

On Dec. 29, Vinh Bui, 46, was fatally shot by officers in the city’s Portola neighborhood after he allegedly stabbed a 15-year-old girl, police said.

Bui, who had at least a 10-year history of mental illness, was shot after moving toward officers with a knife or scalpel, according to police.

On Jan. 4, a man in a wheelchair was shot by officers in the city’s South of Market neighborhood after allegedly stabbing an officer with a knife.

The man, Randal Dunklin, had allegedly been vandalizing parking meters and cars outside a Department of Public Health behavioral health services building prior to the officers’ arrival.

Dunklin survived the shooting and has a court case pending.

The commission meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. in Room 400 at City Hall.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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