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Swartz also says that even if the uninsured get mental health treatment, the "benefits package" they receive is less than what the Medicaid patients get.
Lieutenant Cain of the HPD hostage negotiating team projects tones of frustration and resignation. It is his group, working with SWAT, that is called upon when a troubled person makes his stand.
When things go wrong and the mentally ill person ends up getting shot by police, then police are blamed. When things go right and the person is talked into surrendering and is taken to a mental health facility, relief is short-lived because of the revolving door of almost instant release.
Officers enter the scene from the start at a disadvantage. Police are there as a last resort, Cain says. "We're coming in after everyone else has failed."
Although they do have specialized training (and the city is trying to train more of its officers to deal with the mentally ill), "we aren't psychologists or psychiatrists," Cain says.
Nationally, violent public incidents are on the upswing. Locally, a lot of people are not able to get the services they need, he says.
It's just not a priority. "When do you get somebody's attention? We go out on these cases all the time," Cain says.
It becomes a priority, Cain says, only when an officer shoots someone. "You have the family who is really heartbroken. It is devastating for them. But it is also devastating for the officer who has to live the rest of his life with doing something he never wanted to do."
Cain doesn't want to be seen as negative. Still, he is willing to say that something isn't working right, not when the police come and spend hours talking someone down, only to find that person out on the streets again almost immediately. He is afraid that one of his officers will be hurt.
Track through Robert Arthur Pearson's résumé one more time. He's getting more public, more dramatic, more violent. He has always been abusive to police and paramedics, no matter how many times they save his life.
In the end, police won't be able to save him. He sure can't save himself. And the mental health folk in town, well, they try to do good work, you hope, but all this tut-tutting from the safety of their offices, blaming regulations and not enough dollars for this sad state of affairs, well, it just sounds like the Me-no-Alamo syndrome to the max. Legislators, well, they've gone home for another two years before they tackle funding again. No help there.
So as long as the public is going to watch this story played to its sad end, we might as well make some money off it. Let's bet on the day that Robert Arthur Pearson, accidentally or otherwise, makes good on his suicide threats. Maybe with the money we raise we can get some mental health help for somebody else. Let's make the wager more interesting by guessing which way he'll go. Will he accidentally fall off a tall building? Slide into a high-voltage wire on a tower? Force some poor police officer to shoot him when he charges the officer or tries to hurt someone else?
Because if nothing else is certain, be certain of this: Robert Arthur Pearson is going to be in the papers again. And it's not going to be in a good way. Watch for it. Blood on the streets. Crazy times.
Robert Arthur Pearson? He's out there somewhere. The system won't say where. May not even know. But he's not in Ben Taub anymore. They released him days ago.
Editor's note: At final deadline, Cain's HPD crew had not dealt again with Pearson -- instead, it was the Harris County Sheriff's negotiating team. Deputies reported that Pearson, on the afternoon of Friday, November 19, climbed a 40-foot radio transmission tower of a medical center at 710 FM 1960 West. He stripped to his jeans and acted crazy for a couple of hours before being talked down about 6:30 p.m., deputies said. He was taken into custody.
E-mail Margaret Downing at firstname.lastname@example.org.