Bexar County sheriff says mental health pilot program has ‘surpassed expectations’

SMART program set to expand

A pilot program that brings mental health professionals together with Bexar County sheriff’s deputies is set to expand less than a year after its formation, officials announced on Monday.
A pilot program that brings mental health professionals together with Bexar County sheriff’s deputies is set to expand less than a year after its formation, officials announced on Monday.

SAN ANTONIO – A pilot program that brings mental health professionals together with Bexar County sheriff’s deputies is set to expand less than a year after its formation, officials announced on Monday.

In October 2020, the Bexar County Commissioner’s Office allocated $1.5 million toward the Specialized Multidisciplinary Alternate Response Team — known as SMART. The team was made possible by a collaboration between the county’s Office of Criminal Justice, STRAC, Acadian Ambulance Service and the Center for Healthcare Services.

Under SMART, dispatchers who identify a mental health call send a clinician and trained paramedic to the scene. Deputies will respond to the scene if they’re needed, but the goal is to keep people suffering from mental health crises out of jail.

“Working with our other partners, it just fell together,” said Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar. “It’s great. It has surpassed expectations.”

Initially, the group was operating on a limited basis, but after refining the process they will now operate for longer hours.

County commissioners approved the project months after sheriff’s deputies fatally shot Damian Daniels, a combat veteran who was suffering a mental health crisis on Aug. 25, 2020.

Days after the incident, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff criticized the sheriff’s office’s handling of the call.

“It may have been better to send crises mental health professionals rather than deputies with guns and uniforms,” Wolff said on Aug. 28. “Based on the information I have regarding the unfortunate death of Damian Lamar Daniels, I believe this incident should have never happened.”

Wolff has been pleased with the progress of SMART, he said on Monday.

“It’s a very important initiative for the city of San Antonio and Bexar County,’ Wolff said. “I’m so proud of the experts that have gone out there and helped everyone they’ve responded to.”

You can watch the full briefing here.


About the Authors:

Fares Sabawi has been a journalist in San Antonio for four years. He has covered several topics, but specializes in crime, courts, open records and data visualization.

Max Massey is the GMSA weekend anchor and a general assignments reporter. Max has been live at some of the biggest national stories out of Texas in recent years, including the Sutherland Springs shooting, Hurricane Harvey and the manhunt for the Austin bomber. Outside of work, Max follows politics and sports, especially Penn State, his alma mater.