Following in the footsteps of other Bay Area communities seeking to reform local law enforcement practices, Palo Alto recently launched its Psychiatric Emergency Response Team, which pairs Palo Alto police officers with licensed mental health clinicians to serve people experiencing mental health crises.

The clinicians working with the PERT program are from the Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Services Department, city officials said.

The team will respond to calls for service involving people in mental health crises and get them the help they need in a compassionate way, according to city officials.

“This long-anticipated program seeks to provide extra support and resources to help those in need of urgent assistance,” Palo Alto Mayor Tom DuBois said in a statement.

County Supervisor Joe Simitian said, “PERT provides an opportunity to de-escalate if it’s at all possible and can help move folks toward mental health services rather than the criminal justice system.”

PERT will serve as the Palo Alto Police Department’s main point of contact for long-term and ongoing concerns regarding the city’s homeless residents, city officials said.

Teams will be operating in unmarked police cars, with assigned officers wearing plainclothes rather than a police uniform, city officials said.

“I firmly believe programs like this are going to become part of all police agencies in the future, supporting people in acute mental health crisis in getting the help they need,” said Palo Alto Police Chief Robert Jonsen.