In cases where a suspect is known to be mentally or emotionally disturbed, a minimum of four officers along with a sergeant will be sent to the scene, and at least one of them must be specially trained in handling such issues. [Chief Art] Acevedo said this change was spurred by several recent incidents involving violence by homeless suspects and other people with mental health issues. “We will greatly decrease the potential for use of deadly force,” Acevedo said.So I was interested to see a couple of stories in the Houston Chronicle related to "crisis intervention teams" in Harris County and specialized training there for law enforcement handling calls related to the mentally ill:
- Sheriff's crisis team 'protects both sides of the badge' (Sept. 27)
- Patti Hart: How could police shooting of amputee happen here (Sept. 25)
Crisis intervention teams, tagged to respond to calls involving mentally disturbed subjects, reflect a new wave of law enforcement thinking pioneered by the Memphis, Tenn., Police Department in the 1980s. Such efforts have received renewed attention after a Houston police officer last week fatally shot a mentally ill double-amputee who threatened his partner with a pen. HPD's crisis intervention team, in place since 2008, was not at the scene
Sheriff Adrian Garcia launched the county's program last October as an alternative to jailing the mentally ill, an effort he said not only eases suffering but saves taxpayers money. About a fourth of the jail's current 8,900 prisoners require psychotropic medication.
"Each time we take a low-risk, nonviolent, mentally ill individual to treatment rather than jail, we increase the chances they will not re-offend and decrease the costs to our jail and the court system," Garcia said.
Since its inception, the county program has diverted 168 mentally ill subjects, individuals who previously would have been charged with crimes, to treatment facilities.
Henry's team, which has a cooperative agreement with the Houston Police Department's crisis team, has answered 1,581 calls since last October. In the most recent quarter, 728 of the individuals encountered suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, 257 from depression, 227 from bipolar disorder and 213 from schizophrenia.
"Our goal," Henry said, "is to protect both sides of the badge. We are trained and skilled to protect ourselves and trained and skilled to protect the 'consumer.' We don't rush into action. We understand what they are going through."
In addition to the 16 hours required of all police officers, deputies selected for the program receive 40 hours of special training through the HPD Academy, a program regarded by experts as one of the nation's best.
The deputies, accompanied by workers from Mental Health Mental Retardation of Harris County, arrive at crisis scenes in minimally marked squad cars after being dispatched by department operators or summoned by the first responding officers.Austin's policy change is an improvement, but other jurisdictions are doing more to confront these difficult questions and so could APD.