Photo by Senior Police Officer Matt Fowler, Houston Police Photo Lab
To our knowledge, the Houston Police Department is the only municipal police department in the nation with a mental health division. Comprised of 35 classified personnel and 39 behavioral health professionals, Houston’s mental health division oversees the department’s multi-faceted specialized strategies for responding to the mentally ill. The following is a summary of the division.
Houston Police Department Personnel
3 CIRT sergeants
1 administrative/training sergeant
1 investigations sergeant
1 homeless outreach sergeant
12 CIRT officers
4 homeless outreach team officers
2 boarding homes officers
2 training officers
1 chronic consumer officer
5 investigative/administrative officers
The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD Personnel
1 assistant deputy director for field based programs
1 director for the Crisis Intervention Response Team (CIRT)
2 clinical team leaders for CIRT
12 clinicians for CIRT
1 program director for the Chronic Consumer program
1 clinical team leader for CCSI
6 case managers for CCSI
1 psychiatric technician for CCSI
1 program director for the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT)
3 case managers for HOT
1 program director for the Crisis Call Diversion Program
1 clinical team leader for the Crisis Call Diversion Program
6 Crisis Call Diversion Program phone counselors
- Chronic Consumer Stabilization Initiative (CCSI)
As with criminal activity, a small percentage of individuals with mental illness account for the majority of police calls-for-service. These are the individuals who continually go into serious mental health crises requiring repeated police intervention. Rather than continuing this reactionary cycle, the Chronic Consumer Stabilization Initiative (CCSI) takes a community policing, pro-active, collaborative approach to help keep these consumers from going into crisis, thus reducing police intervention.
The Houston Police Department’s Mental Health Division identifies the mental health consumers the department responds to most frequently. Case managers from The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD work with voluntary consumers with the goal of using all available resources to reduce subsequent crises.
These case managers access outpatient mental health treatment, housing, primary health care, substance abuse treatment, and social security benefits for the consumers assigned to them. The case managers work closely with the NeuroPsychiatric Center (NPC), Mobile Crisis Outreach Team, Crisis Stabilization Unit, Crisis Residential Unit, The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD Helpline, and the Houston Police Department.
The program was piloted for six months in 2009. For the six months prior to the pilot, the 30 individuals identified by the MHU for placement in the program accounted for 396 police calls-for service, 183 emergency detention orders, and 213 offense reports. During the pilot, these same individuals accounted for 122 calls-for-service (69% change), 39 emergency detention orders (78% change), and 83 offense reports (61% change).
Of the consumers on the program in 2014, approximately 70% reduced both their police contacts (law enforcement calls-for-service) and emergency detentions by 50%.
The program won the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) 2010 Community Policing Award and was a Finalist for the 2010 Herman Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing. The program also won the IACP 2015 Michael Shanahan Award that recognizes outstanding achievement in the development and implementation of public/private cooperation in public safety.
2. Boarding Homes Enforcement Detail
See Map of Boarding Homes in City of Houston
On July 24, 2013, the Houston City Council passed City Ordinance #2013-674 regulating “Boarding Homes” in the City of Houston. The ordinace amends Chapters 1 and 28 of the Code of Ordinances. This new ordinance regulates unlicensed facilities within the City of Houston.
A boarding home or boarding home facility means an establishment that:
- Furnishes, in one or more buildings, lodging to three or more persons with disabilities or elderly persons who are unrelated to the owner of the establishment by blood or marriage; and
- Provides residents with community meals, light housework, meal preparation, transportation, grocery shopping, money management, laundry services, or assitance with self-administration of medication, but does not provide personal care services as defined by Section 247.002 of the Texas Health and Safety Code to those persons.
The ordinance exempts certain facilities that have state licenses. (Sec. 28-452).
The ordinance requires a registration, fire inspection, records retention, reporting, and criminal background checks of owners and employees. The ordinance was initiated by personnel assigned to the Houston Police Department’s Mental Health Division (MHD) and will be enforced by a Boarding Homes Enforcement Detail within the MHD.
Although many boarding homes are well run and provide much-needed assistance, some are not; some are abusive. The following is a reprint of an editorial that appeared in the Houston Chronicle on July 31, 2013, describing the conditions of one such abusive boarding home and the need for regulation.
Houston Chronicle Editorial – July 31, 2013
Last month, investigating a 911 call, police found three malnourished elderly men who’d been held, against their will, in a filthy garage for at least a year. The locked garage had no bathroom, no beds, and only a single chair. “Dungeon-like” and “deplorable,” news reports called the place. While the men languished there, their captor cashed their public assistance checks.
How, we wondered, could something that awful happen?
It has to do with the very Texas combination of poverty, lax regulation and good intentions gone awry.
In this case, the regulatory black hole involves group homes, also known in official state regulations as “boarding homes” – entities that, for a low price, provide living space and meals to the mentally ill, the disabled and anyone else who can’t fend for themselves but can’t afford a nursing home.
Without the hundreds of group homes estimated to exist in Texas, many of our state’s most vulnerable peole would be living on the streets.
Group homes operate on shoestring budgets: Typically, they charge no more than the $23 a day that a resident’s Social Security disability check might provide. The best such places throw in extras, like reminders to take medication or rides to go shopping. The worst are abusive.
For decades, the Chronicle has reported on outrages including suspicious deaths, medical mistreatment, malnutrition, fires and lack of supervision.
That dungeon where the three men were held captive? The organization behind it first appeared in state records in 2008, when one Regina Jones registered a nonprofit called Regina’s Faith Ministries. Jones’ pastor, who served on the nonprofit’s board, has said that Jones started with good intentions, aiming to house the homeless.
But according to the Associated Press, Jones didn’t bother to apply for the state license required to operate a group home for more than three residents. In 2011, the state Department of Aging and Disability Services finally investigated the place.
To get out of trouble, the AP reported, Jones wrote the agency that she planned to reduce the number of people her group home served to three, so she’d no longer need a state license. That meant that no agency at all was responsible for monitoring Regina’s Faith Ministry – nobody, that is, until police answered the 911 call.
Besides the three men in the garage, officers found other people living inside the house: another man who said that he, too, had been held against his will, and three women whom police described as “mentally challenged.” Jones’ son, Walter Renard Jones, was charged with two counts of injury to an elderly individual. One of the men in the garage, William Merle Greenawalt, 79, died Thursday in Montgomery County.
It’s a coincidence that, only days after the captives were rescued, the City of Houston approved its first-ever regulations for group homes. From now on, group homes will be required to register with the city, submit to criminal background checks, report criminal activity or deaths, and submit to annual fire inspections. Basically, the city is making sure that the buildings are safe and that any criminals associated with the enterprise appear on a city list.
That’s a start, but it’s not much more than a start.
No one believes those minimal, long-overdue rules will drive all the bad actors out of the business.
Instead, City Council and the mayor hope timidly that civic clubs will now identify and report unregistered group homes where abuses may be taking place and that potential group-home residents will use the city list of registered homes as a first cut, a way to make sure that a group home meets any standards at all.
The elderly, homeless and mentally ill are easy targets. Our city – and more to the point, our state – needs to monitor group homes far more closely.
It shouldn’t take years and a 911 call to close down a dungeon.
End of Editorial
Since the inception of the CIT program in 1999, officers have voiced concerns about facilities that house individuals with physical and mental disabilities, such as personal care homes, assisted living facilities, group homes, and boarding homes. The list of complaints varied and ranged from inadequate training of facility personnel/staff, numerous calls-for-service to the locations, fraud, physical abuse of residents, and other criminal activity.
The Mental Health Unit (MHU), as it was originally known and structured, did not have the manpower to investigate these types of on-going problems. Once assigned to the MHU in 2010, Senior Officer Doug Anders began the task of developing and writing a city ordinance to regulate and investigate such facilities. After approximately three years of persistence on this extremely complex issue, Officer Anders succeeded in having the City’s first-ever Boarding Homes Ordinance passed and adopted by Houston’s City Council.
Officer Anders, along with Officers Chris Schuster and Vince Johnson comprise the Boarding Homes Enforcement Detail. They started enforcing the ordinance November 22, 2013.
Senate Bill 1189, initiated by the Houston Police Department’s Mental Health Division, was signed into law and took effect September 1, 2013. The bill gives Texas Peace Officers the authority to immediately seize any firearm found in the possession of a person being detained for emergency detention. All seizures in Houston are documented in an offense report and sent to Houston’s Firearms Investigator, Officer Charlah Woodard, who does the following:
- sends a certified letter of the seizure to the consumer it was seized from and a family member or point of contact;
- conducts an ATF trace of the firearm and conducts an NCIC/TCIC check of the person;
- contacts the probate court and requests the disposition of the case;
- if the person was not committed, provides written notice to the person that the firearm may be returned to him/her;
- if the person was committed, provides write notice that the person is prohibited from owning, possessing, or purchasing a firearm and that the person may petition the court that entered the commitment;
- if prohibited, the firearm may be released to the person’s designee or sold and the proceeds will go to the person.
4. Homeless Outreach Team
The Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) started as a pilot program in January 2011. It was made a permanent program in the department after a very successful six-month pilot. Sergeant Stephen Wick, the team’s current supervisor, developed and implemented the program.
HOT is comprised of one sergeant, four officers, and three mental health professional from The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD. The team helps the homeless with the following:
- Social Security cards
- Birth certificates
- Shelter referrals
- Medical equipment
- Bus fare
- Medical care
- Mental health treatment
The team works with several organizations. The following are a few:
- SEARCH Homeless Services
- Lord of the Streets
- Bread of Life
- Palmer Way Station
- Star of Hope
- Salvation Army
- Healthcare for the Homeless
- US Vets
- DeGeorge Veterans Housing
- Main Street Minitries
5. Crisis Intervention Response Team (CIRT)
Houston’s Crisis Intervention Response Team (CIRT) started as a six-month pilot program in March 2008. The pilot was extremely successful and the program was made permanent later that year.
CIRT is Houston’s co-responder program partnering a Houston CIT officer with a masters-level licensed professional clinician from The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD. The officer and clinician attend roll-call together and ride together in a patrol car. CIRT is our highest level response to individuals in serious mental health crises. The following are the objectives of CIRT:
- Assist officers with CIT-related calls
- Conduct pro-active and follow-up CIT investigations
- Respond to SWAT calls as a resource when available
- Handle the most serious CIT calls
CIRT units ride citywide with the sole responsibility of responding to CIT-related calls; they are not in the calls-for-service loop.
Houston has 12 full-time units. To our knowledge, Houston has the largest co-responder program with the officer and clinician riding together as partners of any single police department in the nation.
6. Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) Program
Houston started its Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) Program in 1999 as a pilot in the Central Patrol Division. After a successful six-month pilot, Chief of Police C. O. “Brad” Bradford ordered the program implemented in all patrol divisions. Department-wide implementation started in March 2000. By June of that year, 213 patrol officers had received the 40-hour CIT class. By January 2001, approximately 700 officers had received CIT training. As of February 2016, Houston over 2,600 CIT officers.
A Hybrid Program
Houston started its CIT program based on the Memphis model of training veteran volunteer officers and training 25 percent of the patrol force. Houston had an availability problem with having only 25 percent of its patrol force trained. The majority of CIT calls were not being responded to by CIT officers because CIT officers were not available. To address this problem, and because Houston believes CIT training is beneficial to all officers and the skills can be utilized in many different calls – not just calls involving a person in mental heatlh crisis – Houston started providing crisis intervention training to all cadets in March 2007. The cadets graduate as CIT officers. The program is voluntary for veteran officers. In the future, all Houston Police Department officers will be CIT officers.
Crisis Intervention Training vs. Crisis Intervention Team
Houston started referring to its program as the Crisis Intervention Training Program in 2013 because some citizens in the community expected a “team” of officers to respond to a situation involving a person in mental health crisis. To clarify and avoid that misconception, “Team” was replaced with “Training.”
7. Crisis Call Diversion Pilot Program
The majority of the calls responded to by the Houston Police Department involving individuals in mental health crises involves individuals who have committed no crime. We believe a percentage of these calls can be handled by professional helpline counselors. This program brings helpline counselors from The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD (The Harris Center) into the city/county dispatch facility: the Houston Emergency Center (HEC). Callers deemed appropriate for this program will be connected immediately with a helpline counselor who may be able to resolve the person’s crisis without the need to dispatch a patrol unit.
8. Department of Justice Learning Site Program
Houston was one of six police departments nationwide to be selected in 2010 by the Council of State Governments as a learning site for specialized policing responses for the mentally ill. As a learning site, Houston provides information on its multi-faceted strategies for responding to individuals in serious mental health crises, hosts visitors from across the nation, and trains law enforcement and mental health personnel from across the region, state and nation. Houston started serving as a learning site in January 2011. Senior Police Officer Frank Webb and Police Officer Rebecca Skillernmake up the learning site training team.