SAN ANTONIO – Law enforcement officers are on the go when answering most calls, but when it comes to mental health situations, they’re trained to slow down and engage.
Danny Herrera is part of the San Antonio Police Department’s Mental Health Unit. He said every officer is trained to figure out what’s in front of them as they arrive at a scene.
“Ask open-ended questions to gain some sort of outlook on what’s really going on, why this person may be acting a certain way,” Herrera said. “So we’re really trained to mostly slow down the call to be able to gain a better understanding.”
It’s a different approach, but it’s one the community has been asking for to safely end situations involving mental crisis calls.
Most agencies in Bexar County have officers that have received 40 hours of crisis intervention. Each officer gets a refresher course every three years.
Herrera is part of a specialized unit that follows up with people and families involving a chronic person with ongoing issues. He shows up in plain clothes to engage with the person.
“When it is a chronic person that is having an issue -- where maybe just that one time patrol cannot fix it, and they need something where it’s an engagement from us over time, months, sometimes years -- we will get a referral, an email from that patrol officer. And then it’ll be assigned to somebody in our unit,” Herrera said.
“From there, we will actually engage with these individuals to actually provide long-term stabilization. Sometimes you can’t resolve that call within that one time,” he continued. “It becomes an issue where you need to go ahead and engage with this person over months and sometimes years.”
Mike Davis, an instructor with the Alamo Area Council of Governments, teaches cadets and officers how to assess if a person is having a mental health crisis, suffers from a mental disability or is a danger to the public.
“The goal is for everyone to go home at the end of the day, not just them but the people they are helping, and to create trust. And that’s really what it’s all about,” Davis said.
An officer’s initial handling of a mental crisis call will set the tone with that person, their family and neighbors.
Cadets use simulators to practice reacting to people in mental distress and negotiating.
A lot of the training that used to be reserved for specialized units is now in the hands of everyday officers, facing some of these mental health crisis calls daily.
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