KERR COUNTY – Sheriff Rusty Hierholzer believes law enforcement has no place in the treatment of mental health patients who are not criminals, including in the transport of patients to mental health facilities.
“No. 1, they are not criminals,” Hierholzer said. “They should not in any way -- and the law even refers to it -- have to be transported in a marked patrol car, behind a cage, in handcuffs by law enforcement.”
Deputies often transport patients to the Crisis Stabilization Unit, or CSU, on the campus of the Kerrville State Hospital.
But many times, the 16 beds at the CSU are full forcing deputies to drive patients to San Antonio, Austin, or even El Paso.
If the nearest facility is full, Hierholzer believes it should be the responsibility of the mental health facility staff to transport a patient to another facility.
He said Kerr County can reimburse the CSU for that expense.
There’s also the issue of a strain on the sheriff’s force.
There are four to five patrol deputies on duty at one time in Kerr County. Transporting a mental health patient takes two of those deputies off the streets, Hierholzer noted.
“Which would jeopardize all of our citizens for law enforcement services they need,” he said.
Hierholzer adds that his deputies are not trained to interact with mental health patients.
But the local mental health authority disagrees with the sheriff.
Ross Robinson oversees 19 counties, including Kerr, as the executive director of Hill County Mental Health & Developmental Disabilities Centers.
“An emergency detention is a warrant that can only be carried out by a peace officer,” he said.
“In my other 18 counties, folks are being transported by sheriff’s departments. In fact, that’s the practice across the state,” Robinson said.
If there is not a bed available locally, Robinson’s staff will find placement for a patient elsewhere.
“What happens, though, is we do not have the legal authority to provide that transportation,” Robinson said.
He adds that the core of the issue centers on a lack of resources, one he says is felt throughout Texas.
“Across the state, mental health authorities are working hand in hand with county authorities and that’s what we hope to do with Kerr County is to develop other local alternatives,” Robinson said.
Hierholzer is reaching out to Gov. Greg Abbott’s office for help.
“Something has to be done to start putting people with mental illness first and get it out of law enforcement,” Hierholzer said.