The process of addressing mental health crises in Houston involves a collaboration between the Houston Police Department and Harris County’s mental health authority, the Harris Center. It has been upheld as a national standard, but the task force’s for police reform report released Sept. 30 identified ways to strengthen it. Crisis calls Calling for Mental Health reform
Kingwood, and all of the sud- den, they get dispatched to Southwest Houston,” she said. Another program, the Harris Center’s Mobile Cri- sis Outreach Team, attends to similar crises without the presence of law enforce- ment. However, the teams are not dispatched through the region’s 911 system and must be called directly. The mayor’s task force rec- ommended boosting funding for both programs and add- ing the mobile crisis outreach team to the 911 network to respond to calls that do not pose a public safety threat. By making both programs more accessible, the task force said, the city can build upon its current successes. Task force reforms Increase number of teams from 12 to 36 Estimated cost: $8.7 million Likelihood of readmission to a psychiatric hospital following CIRT intervention; compared to 13.5% without Crisis Response Intervention Teams Program by Houston Police Department In emergency situations, clinicians are sent out alongside police officers to address mental health crises. 5,519 Individuals served by CIRT in 2019 5.2%
Mobile Crisis Outreach Team Program by The Harris Center Psychiatrists, registered nurses, licensed clinicians and psychiatric technicians who specialize in crisis intervention respond to calls placed directly with them. 2,361 MCOT calls received between June 2019 and June 2020
Since 2014, only 4.1% of calls handled through HPD’s various mental health diver- sion initiatives have ended with the subject booked in the Harris County Jail, according to the task force report. The rest were diverted to psychi- atric care or were resolved on-site, HPD data shows. The likelihood of a resident being re-admitted into an area hospital for psychiatric evalu- ation declines after they inter- act with a crisis intervention team, the report found. To fully staff both exist- ing programs, the task force called for 24 new Crisis Inter- vention Response Teams, which would cost $8.7 mil- lion, and 18 more Mobile Cri- sis Outreach Teams, which Task force reforms Increase hours to 24/7 Estimated cost: $272,140 4,566 Crisis Call Diversion calls received in 2019 2,334 Jail diversions as a result of calls in 2019 Crisis Call Diversion program Program by the Houston Emergency Center In non-emergency situations, dispatchers connect callers to clinicians who can address the situation over the phone.
Task force reforms Increase number of teams from 1 to 19 Give 911 dispatchers the ability to route calls to MCOT. Estimated cost: $4.3 million
SOURCES: MAYOR’S TASK FORCE ON POLICING REFORM, HOUSTON POLICE DEPARTMENT, HARRIS CENTER/COMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER
Residents have the option to call 911 or the county’s public mental health authority, The Harris Center, at 713-970-7000.
found, while Houston serves as a model and mental health initiatives are broadly sup- ported, at least $13 million worth of added investment is needed. Of the 40,000 mental health-related calls made to the Houston Police Depart- ment in 2019, just 15% were addressed by the HPD Crisis Intervention Response Team, which deploys mental health professionals alongside police officers, department data shows. “The system is overbur- dened, and we have a short- age of mental health care providers,” said Renae Vania Tomczak, CEO of Mental Health America of Greater Houston. “There are ways
to mitigate that, but as with everything, it comes down to the funding.” Answering thecall For a city of over 600 square miles, the Houston Police Department has 12 Cri- sis Intervention Response Teams, but depending on staffing levels, the depart- ment may have only one team on duty during a given shift, HPD Assistant Chief Wendy Bainbridge told council mem- bers at the November com- mittee meeting. The teams address situations during which a resident is experienc- ing a mental health crisis such as attempting suicide. “The team could be responding to a call in
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the place to look in terms of innovation and collabora- tion,” said Young, a member of the mayor’s police reform task force who spoke to the City Council’s public safety committee in November. In a separate report, the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration noted that Houston’s crisis interven- tion practices exceed national standards. It is one of 10 departments in the U.S. used to train other law enforce- ment agencies. However, amid a national reckoning on policing and racial justice, Mayor Sylves- ter Turner’s Sept. 30 police reform task force report
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