Burbank Police Commission Meets to Discuss Mental Health Services and Relationship With Burbank Police Department

Sporty new Burbank Police emblem on doors of Chevrolet Caprice. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

On June 16th, the Burbank Police Commission convened in order to report on on-going work and to discuss agenda items brought up during the last meeting, which took place on April 21st. The June 16th meeting took place at 6 P.M. and lasted roughly 35 minutes.

First reported on was an item that was introduced at the end of the last police commission meeting: the expansion of the Mental Health Evaluation Team (MHET). This was an item that Burbank City Council had wanted the commission to look deeper into, with the council allocating additional staff and a new vehicle for MHET in their annual budget passed in May.

Commission Chair Nidal Kobaissi reported to the commission that he had contacted Los Angeles County Mental Health services to better find out how Burbank could expand mental health services and how this expansion could be best facilitated. In his research on the subject, Kobaissi found out that most cities in L.A. County connect their police departments with their mental health services.

“Pretty much every city within L.A. County has their police department facilitate mental health services” said Kobaissi.

Despite this fact, Kobaissi wants to see the MHET be able to work with departments outside of the police, such as the fire department and Burbank Water and Power. “We need to find a way that the MHET can work with all departments in Burbank government” stated the Commission Chair.

Piggybacking off this point, Commissioner Michael Elman, a person who worked with Kobaissi in researching mental health services, brought up the STAR program that currently exists in the city of Denver, Colorado.

“Burbank city was just made aware of the STAR program in Denver, a program where mental health experts respond to calls in which a police officer isn’t necessarily needed to be present” said Elman. “It’s an interesting model and looks to be successful but is currently underfunded by the city of Denver.”

Following the reporting about mental health services, the commission addressed a number of procedural agenda items. Chief among these was the use of the Burbank Police Department’s letterhead on all official police commission documents and communications.

Senior Assistant City Attorney Jina Oh suggested that the police commission had full authority to make a change to the letterhead; “instead of having the police department’s shield as a letterhead, the commission could simply change the letterhead to read ‘Burbank Police Commission'” said Oh.

However, Commission Vice Chair Amy Vest and Commissioner Robert Cohen both brought up the fact that the police commission is working on behalf of the city council and that, therefore, it is the city council’s duty to make these kind of changes. “If the police commission is so insistent on maintaining its independence from the Burbank Police Department, it’s up to the city council to remedy this matter” said Vest.

“I don’t believe this needs to be a change that the city council has to approve” said city attorney Oh in response to the commissioners. “It’s an easy change…[changing the letterhead] doesn’t change anything about the duties of the police commission.”

Instead of making a direct change to the letterhead, Burbank Police Commission reached a consensus through a motion that they would seek the assistance of Burbank City Council in “assigning staff outside of the police department in supporting the commission and identifying how the commission should receive communication and communicate with the public.” The motion was drawn up by Commission Chair Kobaissi and passed unanimously.

After the commission addressed the agenda items, Burbank Police Chief Scott LaChasse made a number of brief announcements related to current police activities.

According to Chief LaChasse, crime is up 7% percent in Burbank. Most of these crimes are related to stolen property, such as catalytic converters.

LaChasse further reported that BPD has significantly lowered their response time to two minutes and 53 seconds. This is faster than Burbank’s Fire Department responds to calls and, additionally, faster than any other police department in the surrounding area.

In relation to the recent opening of California that took place on June 15th, the Chief emphasized the right of some businesses to be able to apply stricter public health standards if they so choose.

The June 16th meeting was the Police Chief’s last meeting. In a few words, Chief LaChasse painted a cautiously optimistic picture of Burbank’s future.

“Yes, we are facing challenges, but by remaining positive and resilient, we can get through this difficult time” said Chief LaChasse in his closing remarks.