SAN ANTONIO – Law enforcement officers are trained to go, go, go, but when it comes to responding to mental health calls, they are trained to slow down and engage.
Danny Herrera is with the San Antonio Police Department Mental Health Unit. He said every officer is trained to understand what is in front of them when they arrive.
“Ask open-ended questions to get a sense of what’s really going on, why this person may be acting a certain way,” Herrera said. “So we’re really trained to slow down the call most of the time to better understand what’s really going on.”
It’s a different approach, but one the community has asked for to safely end situations involving mental crisis calls. The majority of Bexar County agencies have agents who have received 40 hours of crisis response. Each officer takes a refresher course every three years.
Herrera is part of a specialized unit that follows up on individuals and families involving a chronic person who has persistent problems. He appears in civilian clothes to hire the person.
“When it’s a chronic person who has a problem where maybe one patrol can’t fix it and they need something where it’s a commitment from us over time, months, sometimes years, we will get a referral, an email from that patroller, and then it will be assigned to someone in our unit,” he said. “From there, we will really engage with these people to ensure long-term stabilization. Sometimes you can’t resolve this call within this time frame. It becomes a problem where you have to go ahead and engage with that person for months and sometimes years.
Mike Davis, an instructor with the Council of Alamo Area Governments, teaches cadets and officers how to assess whether a person has a mental health crisis, is mentally handicapped, or poses a danger to the public.
“The goal is for everyone to go home at the end of the day, not just them but the people they help, and to build trust and that’s really what it’s all about,” did he declare.
An officer’s initial handling of a mental crisis call will set the tone with that person, their family and neighbors.
Cadets use simulators to practice dealing with people in mental distress and to negotiate.
Much of the training that was once reserved for specialist units is now in the hands of everyday officers, dealing with some of these mental health crisis calls daily.
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