‘Astronomical’ number of emergency detentions last year

FILE - Austin police vehicle (KXAN File Photo)
FILE - Austin police vehicle (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Last year, Austin police officers marked about 11,000 calls as having a mental health component.

Of that number, there were 5,200 emergency detentions. Lt. Brian Jones with APD called it an “astronomical” number on Monday; a number the department is working to cut down on through the hospital and jail diversion program.

Hospitalization and jail time for a person experiencing a mental health crisis can be costly and time consuming. The alternative, through the diversion program, is meeting with APD’s Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). A Mobile Crisis Outreach Team of clinicians and nurses can then provide behavioral health evaluations to those in need of help. The teams will follow up and connect them with local mental health services.

“Police officers are not the authority on mental health issues. We are not trained mental health clinicians,” Lt. Jones said. “However, when these problems come up to the forefront and bubble up to the surface, the first people that anyone is going to call – they’re going to pick up the phone and call 911. Who responds? The police do.”

Early Sunday morning, a 26-year-old woman was shot and killed by Austin police officers after pointing a gun at them and saying, “Shoot me, shoot me, kill me.” One of the department’s 158 patrol officers who have received an additional 40 hours of mental health crisis training was at the scene.

Lt. Jones referred to mental health crisis responses involving a weapon as “high dynamic, rapidly changing [scenes]. You don’t know what you’re dealing with until you’re there.”

He says the CIT team’s job is to act as liaisons between the 158 mental health officers on patrol and the people using mental health resources. The team is made up of seven officers supervised by a sergeant.

In the police academy, cadets receive 40 hours of crisis intervention training, above the 16 hours mandated by the state. After two years, officers are eligible for additional training to become certified as a CIT patrol officer (an additional 40 hour class).

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