How Houston Police Sharply Cut Mental Illness Emergency Contacts


Texas is one of a handful of states where only police — and not doctors or health care professionals — can detain a patient in an emergency, says the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Since developing a mental health division, Houston police have dramatically reduced the number of people with mental illness who are detained against their will. They’ve helped get more than 200 homeless people with severe mental illness off the streets in the past three years. They are spending less money for these better results.

Houston is the first police department in the nation to devote an entire division to mental health. The department has five programs aimed at helping people in psychiatric crisis avoid arrest — including a homeless outreach team, a team dedicated to identifying chronic consumers and a team of 10 officers who are paired with mental health counselors to go out on calls for help. Since 2008, the department has cut the number of its mental illness emergency contacts in half. In 2009, Houston found that 200 people in mental health crises had repeated interactions with police officers since 2006. The city narrowed that list down to those who had been taken in on emergency detentions four or more times — 57 “chronic consumers.”

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