AUSTIN (KXAN) — In a single year, the Austin Police Department responds to more than 10,000 calls related to mental illness.
How officers respond can protect not only police and the person in question, but the public as well. Tuesday, community leaders unveiled a new facility to help police get people suffering a mental health crisis the help they need.
“Do you feel like wanting to hurt yourself or anybody else or anything?” Officer James Turner asked a woman. Turner, part of APD’s crisis intervention team, was following up on a police report from a few days earlier. “Has everything been going alright since then?”
KXAN rode along with APD crisis intervention officers last December as they responded to various types of mental health calls.
“We want them to want the help that they need,” Turner said.
APD now has a new resource to get them help: The Herman Center for Mental Health Crisis Care, run by the mental health group Integral Care. It offers what officers can’t.
“Licensed therapists and clinicians that can provide counseling, therapy, and case workers to really focus on what that person needs,” Laura Slocum, practice administrator at Integral Care, said.
Before the center’s soft opening on Tuesday, when police would detain someone having a mental health crisis, that person would either go to the hospital or jail.
“This is a different kind of setting that we can take them where they just feel better,” APD Asst. Chief Joseph Chacon said. “They feel more secure.”
Last year, APD took close to 12,000 calls related to mental illness and conducted more than 5,500 emergency detentions. That’s up from about 10,000 calls and around 5,200 detentions the year before.
The population growth is contributing to the rise in the numbers, Chacon said, but so is the training officers are getting. “Part of it has been the recognition, and being able to know how to refer people to the proper services,” he said.
The mental health center will serve people referred by law enforcement, emergency departments or other care teams — not walk-in patients. They expect to serve more than 1,000 people in the first year.
“You know the Austin Police Department cares about you,” Turner told the woman last December, handing over a business card in case she decided she wanted to speak to a care professional. “We want you to get help.”
Chacon said the department can start referring people in early September.