Harris County doubles efforts to deal with mentally ill - FOX 26 News | MyFoxHouston

Harris County doubles efforts to deal with mentally ill

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HOUSTON (FOX 26) -

The call came in as a woman in her fifties getting aggressive with her family members. Her daughter calls deputies who arrive, cuff her and put her in the back of a squad car.

Typically she'd simply be arrested, but maybe not tonight because the patrol deputies called the crisis intervention response team or CIRT. 

Deputy D.J Hess and clinician Laura Perez responded. Hess and Perez talk to the woman and all the players.

"She just got out of a facility where she was being treated. She still feels the need to act out and be violent," says Hess.

Then Perez runs her through the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority's system.

"Basically to find out how oriented she is and where she is emotionally. So it's giving me a little insight into what her mental state is and whether or not she needs treatment right now," she says while tapping on the laptop's keyboard.

It's a scene that's going to be a lot more common in Harris County. The Sheriff's Office just doubled the size of its CIRT from three two-person units to six. Each unit is a Mental Health Deputy and a licensed clinician from the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority.   

They were there when a Lone Star College Student started slashing other students and  thousands of others you've never heard of.  In the two years it's been around, teams have responded to three thousand calls. The goal is not to jail low level offenders with mental issues,  but to treat them.  All too often mental health calls can end with  law enforcement using deadly force, and occasionally vice-versa.

Lt. R.A. Henry runs the team. He says they've expanded for one simple reason-Increased demand.

"We track all consumers and we're seeing more persons with PTSD related illnesses and traumatic brain injuries that are starting to surface."

Add to the mix more dementia cases and Lt. Henry estimates he could keep thirty CIRT teams busy. If this sounds like a luxury, it's not. It's cheaper to treat than put in jail.

Now back to the domestic disturbance call. Paramedics arrive and determine the woman has some health issues.  They will transport her to Ben Taub. Hess and Perez will file an emergency detention order  to get her mentally evaluated and treated.

"This is a happy ending because she doesn't need to go to jail. She needs the help she can get for her medical and psychological. That way she doesn't have to go to jail and fill up a cell because that's not what she needs. She's not a violent criminal," says Hess.

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