In 2007, change swept the Houston Police Department and the way they handled the mentally ill. Change came after two people with schizophrenia were shot and killed by police only two months apart. In the past 5 years, the changes that were made have proven effective—effective in getting the mentally ill the help they need and improving police relations with them. Houston’s efforts are being held up as an example across the country and they certainly deserve it.
Houston is the first police department in the country to devote an entire unit to mental health, according to Milwaukee’s Journal Sentinel who profiled the department in an effort to reform their own police. This division of the Houston Police Department has served to assist the mentally ill in getting counseling, housing, and avoiding the financial and personal costs of emergency psychiatric holds.
Since 2008, when the division was officially created, Houston police have cut their mental illness emergency contacts in half. They did this, in part, by identifying those people who had the most frequent contacts with police. These 30 individuals were reported to have been involuntarily detained by police 165 times in a six month period. After identifying them and appointing case managers to them, those same 30 people only experienced 39 involuntary holds in the next six month period. This marked a 76.4% improvement.
In the past several decades, our nation as a whole has failed the mentally ill. Due to various issues including the shuttering of old-school mental institutions and more recently, a decrease in community mental health services, more people are living with untreated mental illness. This can exhibit itself as criminality, or can turn into violent encounters when police are called.
When compared with Milwaukee, Houston has accomplished great strides in improving police interactions with the mentally ill, and therefore community safety. Though Houston’s 2.1 million residents is more than twice the population of Milwaukee, the city had about 28% of the number of emergency detentions than the smaller, northern city—2,259 in Houston compared with more than 8,000 in Milwaukee.
It’s understandable why cities like Milwaukee would look to Houston as a role model in dealing with the mentally ill. Here’s hoping more cities take on the sort of proactive approach that not only saves money but saves lives.
If you struggle with mental illness and are charged with a crime, it could provide the opportunity for you to get help. Contact our office today to discuss how we may be able to help you avoid jail time and get assistance for your mental health needs. Whether you were self-medicating with illegal drugs or if you are charged with resisting arrest, you have options.