Three Harris County Sheriff’s deputies will have new partners riding shotgun soon, if county officials approve a pilot program pairing them with mental health workers to deal with mentally disturbed suspects.
Sheriff Adrian Garcia said he wants to treat the mentally ill, not jail them.
“This will help keep those in crisis from becoming a greater danger to themselves or another, and if they get the right treatment and services, they will be less likely to behave in a way that attracts the attention of the police again,” Garcia said recently.
On Tuesday, the court will consider allowing the sheriff to hire three deputies for the pilot program. The deputies would respond to calls in the unincorporated parts of Harris County, accompanied by a clinician from the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority.
The three Crisis Intervention Response Team units would add to the round-the-clock coverage provided by 10 such units now operated by the Houston Police Department. Those units have responded to crisis calls outside city limits, said HPD Lt. Mike Lee, but only rarely.
When the mentally ill interact with the criminal justice system, everyone loses, Garcia said.
“When these calls involve nonviolent minor crimes or disturbances, it is better for the suspect, better for the police, better for the public, and better for the criminal justice system to arrange medical treatment for the suspect rather than charge them with a crime and then take them to jail,” Garcia said.
County Judge Ed Emmett noted the staggering cost of incarceration, adding, “It’s such a desperately needed program.”
Diverting folks who need mental health treatment away from the jail and into treatment where appropriate is far more humane and a lot cheaper than what we’re doing now. I hope this pilot is a big success and quickly gets ramped up to meet the full need. Kudos to all involved.