Diane Y. Byun


Effective July 1, 1972, California’s Lanterman-Petris-Short Act (“LPS Act”) set the precedent for modern mental health commitment procedures in the U.S. named after its authors, State Assemblyman Frank Lanterman and State Senators Nicholas C. Petris and Alan Short, the LPS Act sought to “end the inappropriate, indefinite, and involuntary commitment of persons with mental health disorder”; to “provide prompt evaluation and treatment of persons with mental health disorders or impaired by chronic alcoholism”; and to “guarantee and protect public safety.” Despite citing to these articles of intent, the LPS Act violates its own legislative intent through its inclusion of “gravely disabled” in its enforcement of involuntary psychiatric hold designations (also known as “5150 designations”). First, police officers are not required to make a medical diagnosis of a mental health disorder at the time of a 5150 designation; the broad scope of “gravely disabled” increases the number of persons police officers can involuntarily transport, increasing the likelihood of inappropriate and involuntary commitment of persons with mental health disorders. Second, the broad scope of “gravely disabled” produces an onslaught of 5150-designated persons (whether improperly designated or not) being sent to LPS-designated hospitals with limited resources (e.g., lack of beds and psychiatric staff); this results in patients waiting for an inordinate amount of time for a psychiatric evaluation and/or a hospital bed. Third, it is unclear whether the LPS Act sought to provide protection for the mentally ill or to provide protection from the mentally ill in its guarantee of protecting “public safety”; the inclusion of “gravely disabled” in 5150 designations indicates that the LPS Act provided the public with a duplicitous means of removing the mentally ill, impoverished, and houseless from the streets under the guise of “public safety.” This Paper suggests the following to help remedy the effects of implementing the broadly defined “gravely disabled” in 5150 designations: (1) Remove “gravely disabled” from the 5150 criteria; (2) integrate the community with mental health advocacy efforts by creating outreach and education programs; and (3) implement a client-centric approach to interacting with persons with mental health disorders through restorative policing and the establishment of a restorative court.