Two men sit in a van used for non-police response to mental health crises.
Santa Clara County TRUST, a non-police mobile crisis response team, is dispatched through the 988 call center. Photo courtesy of TRUST.

When 988 launched almost two years ago it had two specific goals: streamline suicide and mental health calls to a one-stop crisis hotline and take law enforcement out of the equation when possible. That’s not happening in San Jose.

recent city report shows Santa Clara County mental health teams in 2023 responded to just 2% of nearly 60,000 San Jose 911 calls where a non-police response was a better alternative. The data is eye opening. It reveals how severely underutilized 988 is, even though it’s specifically designed to reduce police case loads for lower level situations. This desert between the two call centers has a detrimental effect on residents calling for non-police services.

The San Jose report pinpoints which services to shift away from 911 to non-police calls.

Of the 218,763 911 calls analyzed in 2023, nearly 27% fell within nine categories that San Jose officials recommended for a non-police response. Of those categories, calls related to mental health, unhoused individuals and substance use could be handled through 988 dispatching non-police mobile crisis teams such as TRUST and other county field units, the report shows. Welfare checks and disturbances also fell into the non-police response category, since they are often intertwined with the same demographics.

Essentially, more than half the calls on the list could be directed to the 988 call center. This would enable the San Jose Police Department and Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office to redirect their law enforcement officers to calls involving crime.

The city and county should be prioritizing and strengthening the interoperability between 911 and 988 to function in a seamless manner. This means beefing up 988 and its services by adding more counselors, clinicians and peer specialists to adequately take the call load off of 911.

It’s no secret San Jose and the county are facing significant shortfalls in their upcoming budgets. The county has a $250 million deficit and San Jose expects to be short $52 million. An adjustment in the funding of various service streams could help.

It costs less to send a mobile crisis team into the field to de-escalate a mental health crisis than for law enforcement to cart the person off to jail, especially if mental health services are needed. A mobile team like TRUST can work with the individual and their family to assist with services and resources in a proactive manner. This is not the job of law enforcement.

The long-term outcome could produce dynamic results. Exorbitant overtime costs — $58 million for SJPD and $20 million in the sheriff’s office — could drop if lower level calls transferred to mental health teams and clinicians.

San Jose is moving in that direction as it explores another TRUST team. The county is adding a direct line to TRUST to take pressure off of 988. But that line needs sufficient staffing as well.

All of these systems — 911, 988, TRUST and the plethora of county behavioral health services — need to operate in symphonic fashion. Siloed systems are not going to cut it. The community wants non-police services. The police want to go back to the job they were trained to do.

It’s time for San Jose to reorganize its priorities. The outcome will end up paying dividends in multiple ways for the city and its residents.

Moryt Milo is an editor at San José Spotlight. Contact Moryt at  or follow her at @morytmilo on X, formerly known as Twitter. Catch up on her monthly editorials here.

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