Jan 8, 2008

Q & A with SFPD

Back in November, we posted about our Behavioral Health Court graduation ceremony, and about a special award that was presented to a member of the SFPD, Officer Michelangelo Apodaca, for his commmitment to working with a client in BHC. After arresting Mr. C* numerous times, Officer Apodaca was instrumental in the success of this client and his entry to BHC, even going out of his way to attend Mr. C's BHC progress reports in court.
(Left to Right) Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval, District 11; Officer Michelangelo Apodaca, Chief's Office-Public Affairs; Chief of Police, Heather J. Fong; and, Commander Stephen Tacchini, Field Operations Bureau

We asked Officer Apodaca a few questions about his views about BHC, mental health and criminal justice, and the SFPD. Here's what he had to say:

How did you get involved in Behavioral Health Court?
I first became aware of Behavioral Health Court after coming into contact with Mr. C (through several arrests), when he was admitted to Behavioral Health Court.

The Tarval District Community was having a lot of difficulties with Mr. C as he was physically acting out on them. Eventually, his case was referred to BHC.

It's unsual for a Police Officer to follow the progress of a BHC client. What motivated you to do so?
My motivation to follow the progress of Mr. C was varied. First of all, the community was "at their wits end" in regards to dealing with him. They were asking for help and I believed our efforts and that of other City Agencies could help resolve the issues.

As I began to work more closely with the various City agencies, I saw that there were many individuals who also cared about the community and wanted to protect Mr. C as well. I saw this as an opportunity to protect the community and help Mr. C get the mental health services he desperately needed.

I spoke with Mr. C's parents and they wanted help with their son as well, but didn't know where to turn. BHC was the stepping stone to help get Mr. C assimilate back into the community he had once been terrorizing.

San Francisco's Department of Public Health provides 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Training for Police Officers. The training educates officers about mental health issues and how best to deal with an individual who may be suffering from a mental illness. How did this training help you to understand this client?
The Crises Intervention Training was among the most innovative courses I have taken in the Department. In a word, it helped me become more compassionate. I was exposed to individuals who "lived and breathed" what it was like to live with a mental illness. It most definitely gave me additional insight into what individuals with mental illness must overcome in their daily lives.

What do you want other Police Officers to know about your experience with BHC?
I would want other Police Officers to know that there are alternatives for individuals who have committed crimes AND require treatment for their mental illness. The two can work together to benefit not only the community, but to assist individuals who can benefit from the many programs the City has to offer.

There are many options to consider when dealing with persons who have mental illness. I would tell Police Officers that sometimes it is necessary to consider alternative options, not immediately apparent, such as the program that has served Mr. C and the community in which he lives, so well. BHC is a program that has changed livs in a postive way and I believe will continue to do so in the future. I am proud to have begun my association with Behavioral Health Court.

*Client's name has been changed to protect the individual's privacy.

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