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Mental Health Deputies Field Evaluation of High Risk Individuals

NCJ Number
Date Published
12 pages
A program was developed in Galveston County, Texas to use law enforcement officers who have received special training as emergency medical technicians to recognize and handle individuals who are mentally disturbed or suicidal.
The mental health deputy program was created by the county sheriff's department in cooperation with the Gulf Coast Mental Health/Mental Retardation Center. The program was based on the realization that people who show disruptive or dangerous behavior may need psychiatric treatment rather than incarceration. Experience showed that intervention is more effective if it takes place before the individual has become involved in the criminal justice system. The mental health deputies function as an investigative arm of the county probate court and are responsible for investigating all candidates for civil commitment. They also respond to requests for assistance from other police, from mental health agencies, and from the public. They wear plain clothes and drive unmarked but fully equipped police cars. They try to divert disturbed individuals from criminal justice processing and to prevent unnecessary psychiatric hospitalization. With an active caseload of several hundred clients in the past 2 years, deputies have investigated suicides and suicide attempts, intervened in domestic disturbances, and handled situations involving persons who have barricaded themselves. Most referrals come from the police. The average patient is a single or separated white male who displays or threatens behavior dangerous to himself or others. Evaluation often results in a brief, voluntary admission to a local hospital. A small number have required commitment to a local or regional hospital. Tables are included.