Early on a September afternoon, Santa Clara police officers Carlo Calupad and RJ Otico met Leonard Hodan, who was homeless, at Civic Center Park. By 3 p.m., Hodan had a place to stay, new clothes, a replacement for his lost phone was on the way and he had a stylish haircut.
It’s all in a day’s work for Santa Clara Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Specialist (CIS) team — right down to little things like haircuts.
For many, small setbacks can snowball into homelessness quickly. Hodan became homeless when his landlord abruptly sold the building and canceled his lease.
The Iraq War veteran was homeless for four months, and during that time he lost his phone and his connections to VA services.
“Here is somebody who served his country and he fell through the cracks,” said Otico. “It can happen to many veterans without anybody close by.”
“I didn’t have any money for a new apartment,” said Hodan. “I didn’t know where I was going to stay. I don’t know where the soup kitchen is. I don’t know where to get fresh clothes. I stayed to myself because I don’t want to cause any problems.”
The officers learned that Hodan’s mother in Arizona reported him missing when he suddenly stopped calling her. Otico called the man’s mother, reassuring her that Hodan was OK. While the county’s Community Mobile Response team reconnected Hodan with housing and VA services, barber Gagjeet Sidhu on Franklin Street gave him a haircut and a shave.
Otico met Sidhu two years ago.
“He wanted to give back to the community and told me ‘if you come across someone who needs a haircut, I’d like to give them one,’” said Otico. “When you look good, you feel good. It’s the beginning of getting back.”
Sidhu has experience. Before the Raiders moved to Las Vegas, he was the team’s barber.
“People don’t remember you for what you say, they remember you by how you made them feel,” said Sidhu. “As a barber, I can change people’s lives; how they feel about themselves. A haircut has a lot to do with change. [For Hodan] it was 30 minutes to make someone feel good. He looks like a whole different person.”
“I really like this haircut,” said Hodan. “It’s the way I like to look. Having been in the military, I know it’s important to look sharp.”
Santa Clara’s Pioneering Crisis Intervention Team
Hodan’s story is just one example of the work the Crisis Intervention Team team does every day.
“As a patrol officer, I would run into people with drug problems, who were homeless on the street,” Otico said. “But I lacked the relationships to complete the link to connect them with services.”
When the opportunity came to work in SCPD’s newly formed Community Response Team (CRT) in 2020 — one of the first of its kind — he jumped on it.
“People want to see better responses for those experiencing crisis,” said Otico. “The focus is to ‘develop’ the police, not ‘defund’ the police. We recognized the need to respond better. We need to be able to operate outside the police department to collaborate with social workers and clinicians.
“There’s a reason we have an unmarked car and don’t wear uniforms,” he continued. “After all, what do you think when you see a police car?”
“We’re not trying to penalize people, we’re offering help,” said Calupad. “We can’t force people to accept help, but they know we are here. We partner with other agencies so if there’s a problem, we can get the person who can help right there.”
The team immediately made an impact with a new mental health incident disposition code to guide department policies and staffing.
The team deals with all kinds of crises. On any given day they can be working with someone who’s threatening suicide, a caller who believes there are spies in their apartment and a homeless person living in front of a library. Another CRT program, the Special Needs Awareness Program (SNAP), trains officers to respond appropriately to crisis situations involving people with disabilities.
“People question why police officers should be called in these situations in the first place,” said Otico. “But the reality is that these situations demand more than clinicians are equipped for.
“For example, someone cutting themselves with a knife isn’t committing a crime,” he continued. “But you can’t expect clinicians to put themselves into a situation where someone has a weapon. It defaults to law enforcement. We have the training, we have the tools, we have the authority to deal with a person holding a knife. We can render the scene safe and that’s when mental health professionals can work.”
Building trust is the first thing, says Otico, and the key is listening to people’s own version of their story.
“Then I can go to work and say, ‘it seems like you’re afraid’ to the person who believes spies in their apartment,” said Otico. “Because I listen to you, you feel understood and we can start problem-solving.”
Santa Clara Police Department’s homelessness response website, SantaClaraCA.gov/HomelessResponse, provides information and resources for residents and the homeless. In January 2022, SCPD won the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Community Policing Service’s (COPS) Community Policing in Action photography contest.
“For example, someone cutting themselves with a knife isn’t committing a crime,” he continued. “But you can’t expect clinicians to put themselves into a situation where someone has a weapon. It defaults to law enforcement. We have the training, we have the tools, we have the authority to deal with a person holding a knife. We can render the scene safe and that’s when mental health professionals can work.” – RJ Otico
March 2017, Jesus Geney-Montes – a young man known to the Santa Clara Police Department as having mental health issues – cut himself with a knife, ran out his bedroom window, and was wearing nothing but a bathing suit. Instead of calming Mr. Geney-Montes, the responding officers began screaming and pointing pistols and AR-15 rifles at him – the exact opposite of what they should have been doing. Just as an officer told Jesus they weren’t going to shoot him, Colin Stewart ran after him with pistol drawn, cornered Jesus in an enclosure, and shot him in the back and sides four times. Jesus committed no crime, he did not threaten anyone, he was completely unarmed and half naked – Stewart could clearly see his empty hands.
California Assembly Bill 1506: Signed into law Sept. 30, 2020 and went into effect July 1, 2021, AB1506 mandates the California Department of Justice is required to investigate all incidents of an officer-involved shooting resulting in the death of an unarmed civilian in the state. Historically, these critical incidents in California had been primarily handled by local law enforcement agencies and the state’s 58 district attorneys. With less than 20 years service as a peace officer, Colin Stewart decided to resign or “retire” about the time AB1506 went into effect.
• About AB1506 https://oag.ca.gov/ois-incidents
“The Justice Department has looked into several police departments in recent years for their use of force. The investigators have reported finding that excessive force was routinely used with people whose ability to understand or follow commands was impaired — whether by mental illness, developmental disabilities or intoxication…”
• NY Times and U.S. DoJ investigation:https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/30/us/when-yelling-commands-is-the-wrong-police-response.html
• US DoJ – Police=Mental Health Collaboration Toolkit: https://bja.ojp.gov/program/pmhc/learning.
Having two people at SCPD trained to deal with mentally challenged persons is a start but not a significant step towards improving outcomes with the public. For many years, Santa Clara’s police department instituted the very minimum amount of CIT training in Santa Clara County but had the most officer involved shootings (OIS) of mentally ill persons (see Grand Jury report below). If the City is really intent on improving outcomes with the community’s most vulnerable residents/guests, it should invest in providing ongoing certification of the 40-hour Memphis Model CIT training to 100% of officers like the City of Campbell does and fund staffing/collaboration with Kaiser’s Behavioral Health Center in Santa Clara (as recommended above by US DoJ).
• Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury (page 8, table A): https://www.scscourt.org/court_divisions/civil/cgj/2018/Police_and_Mentally_Ill_Improving_Outcomes050818.pdf
• California POST Recommends Memphis Model (Where are CIT training courses located): https://post.ca.gov/crisis-intervention-team
• University of Memphis CIT Center:http://cit.memphis.edu/curriculuma.php?id=0
• Mental Health America:https://mhanational.org/issues/position-statement-59-responding-behavioral-health-crises
• Kaiser Behavioral Health, Santa Clara:https://kpbhc.kaisersantaclara.org/
The City of Santa Clara and its police department have consistently shown that it tries to deflect and distract away from improved policing instead of holding officers accountable and not thoroughly investigating incidents. “In January 2022, SCPD won the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Community Policing Service’s (COPS) Community Policing in Action photography contest.” Those were not ‘policing in action’ photos, they were staged and not a real outreach to a person in need.
Would love the name of the barbershop to go support our local business!
Jagjeet appears to be DU Cuts located at 1422 Franklin Street, Santa Clara