Mental health professionals may replace some police security at San Francisco hospital

Some of the sheriff's deputies providing security services at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center may soon be replaced by trained mental health workers, the San Francisco Examiner reported May 3. 

A proposal from the health department calls for cutting 11 of the hospital's 29 deputy sheriff positions, and using the cost-savings to hire an additional 44 healthcare workers who can respond to security calls using de-escalation tactics. The proposal calls for requesting law enforcement only when further assistance is needed. 

The health department issued the proposal after some of the hospital's employees raised concerns about deputies disproportionately using force against patients of color, according to the Examiner. A report from the health department found 62 of 120 use-of-force incidents by deputies in fiscal year 2019-29 involved a Black patient. 

"This is an inequity that the department, community members and staff advocates find unacceptable," Basil Price, security director for the health department, said in a letter to the health commission cited by the news outlet. "The department has concluded that healthcare-specific alternatives to law enforcement are more appropriate for meeting the goal of safety and security in many situations and environments." 

Some hospital staff have argued against the proposal, with a petition opposite the removal of law enforcement getting 4,000 signatures last year. They say law enforcement is needed to protect them from violence. 

Ken Lomba, president of the Deputy Shefiffs' Association, disputed claims that deputies could be racial profiling patients, telling the Examiner that use-of-force incidents at the hospital are the result of calls requesting their help and not from encounters initiated by the deputies. 

"If ZSFGH wants us there it should be written in the City Charter to stop these bad decisions," Mr. Lomba said. "We are deeply concerned for the safety of patients, visitors and employees at ZSFGH." 

The health department's proposal is set to be presented for the first time to the health commission May 4. 

To read the full San Francisco Examiner article, click here.

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