‘We need more officers’: SAPD looks to expand mental health unit after scrutiny over response this past summer

It’s been three months since officers shot and killed Melissa Perez

SAN ANTONIO – Saturday marks three months since San Antonio police officers shot and killed 46-year-old Melissa Perez.

Three officers were charged with her murder after Chief William McManus said they didn’t follow department training, as Perez was said to be having a mental health crisis.

The department confirmed its mental health unit was not called. Now, SAPD is trying to find a new solution possible through the latest round of funding from the new city council budget.

“We need more staff,” SAPD Assistant Chief Karen Falks said. “Once we’re able to build this team over 24 hours, we’ll have more officers to cover the city.”

With the passing of City Council’s $3.7 billion spending plan for Fiscal Year 2024 this past week, more staff is budgeted for SAPD. The budget allows for the San Antonio Community Outreach and Resiliency Effort, or SA CORE, to work 24/7.

They’re a team made up of a trained police officer, an SAFD paramedic and a licensed mental health clinician to respond to mental health crises. Right now, the team works two shifts, covering 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day.

Falks said the department is looking to expand its Mental Health Unit, but in the meantime, the force is working to train all of its officers on mental health response. This will take three years to complete.

Devin Metshin is a suicide prevention trainer through LivingWorks’ ASIST program.

With how busy officers are across San Antonio, Metshin said training yourself and your family in de-escalation and asking direct questions can change crisis outcomes.

“We can help triage so that we’re not over-inundating the system so that we’re not just relying on those services that are dying for manpower,” Metshin said. “The more people we can teach to engage in those conversations, the more care we’re actually spreading across the community.”

Even with mental health at the forefront of city council and SAPD budget discussions, Falks said more must be done.

“We need more officers in the mental health unit,” Falks said. “We will eventually get there.”

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About the Authors:

Avery Everett is a news reporter and multimedia journalist at KSAT 12 News. Avery is a Philadelphia native. If she’s not at the station, she’s either on a hiking or biking trail. A lover of charcuterie boards and chocolate chip cookies, Avery’s also looking forward to eating her way through San Antonio, one taco shop at a time!