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The Sheriff’s Crisis Intervention team

It’s a really good idea.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia

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.

[Lt. Robert] 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.”

As we know, HPD has a similar unit, and they have done a good job keeping mentally ill people out of jail as well. It just makes sense, and every law enforcement agency should learn from these examples. Locking people up indiscriminately is expensive and unjust.

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