Harris County Sheriff's Office Says It's Making Progress On Handling The Mentally Ill

Earlier this week, Hair Balls wrote about an Al-Jazeera video about mentally ill people in jails, featuring the Harris County Jail and briefly profiling the police department's Crisis Intervention Response Team, which the Houston Press has written about before.

That Harris County Sheriff's Office was criticized in our post, prompting its spokesman, Alan Bernstein, to let us know about some of the things Sheriff Adrian Garcia has done, in regards to mental illness, since taking over this year. Here's what we found out:

New deputies now get 40 hours of training in crisis intervention. The state mandate since 2003, for all peace officers, is 16 hours and during the Tommy Thomas administration, the sheriff's standard was 24 hours.

"There's no court order, there's no requirement, [increasing the training] is a decision made by the sheriff's office," Bernstein tells Hair Balls.

The sheriff's office is also looking into implementing a program similar to the HPD CIRT program, which pairs patrol officers with mental health professionals from the Mental Health Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County. Garcia and the major over the patrol division want the program, but right now, Bernstein says, the sheriff's office is facing a manpower shortage.

"The commissioner's court, which holds the purse strings, is very sensitive about getting boots on the ground first," Bernstein says.

Hiring new deputies has been a priority in patrol since Garcia took over, Bernstein says, and since January, the sheriff's office has reduced the number of vacant positions from 91 to 25.

"Let's get all our spots filled first, then we'll talk about enhancing it," Bernstein says. "We've got to take the elementary steps first, as far as staffing up, then we'd have to go after funding [for a CIRT program]. We don't have either of those locked in right now."

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