Sheriff's Deputies Who Worked As Sensitivity Trainers Punished For Being Insensitive

This week's feature about Laura Howard also deals with crisis-intervention training in law enforcement.

According to several sources from the story, the Harris County Sheriff's Office has been slow in accepting crisis intervention as a method of handling suspects and inmates at the jail.

Apparently, there has been another setback. The two deputies in charge of training other deputies in crisis intervention were recently transferred, and according to Lieutenant John Legg, a spokesman for the department, the move was punishment for making "insensitive comments" while teaching.

"This was [bad] enough," Legg says. "We push the envelope a little more than you would with strangers, but they should know where the line stops."

The deputies were demoted to jail duty at 1200 Baker St., Legg says.  

The state mandates that all law-enforcement officers receive at least 16 hours of training about handling suspects in crisis - like Howard - and Legg says that about 70 percent of Harris County deputies have met the requirement. (You can hear Howard describe the way she was treated by sheriff's deputies here.)  

Some people aren't convinced. Phil Jenkins, a lawyer and former counselor with the Mental Health Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County, helped start a service in the 1990s at MHMRA for officers and deputies to get the mental health history of a suspect.

"As long as I worked there, no police office ever called, and as far as I know, it hasn't happened since," he says. "If the officer takes them to the hospital, and the guy gets out and does something stupid, it comes back on the officer, but if they take them to jail, well, CYA, they're covered."

Of course,  the insensitivities of the HCSO have been on display in other ways lately; we broke the news last week about a Sikh family claiming they were harrassed by deputies after their home was burglarized.

-- Paul Knight

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