Later this year, when 911 gets a call about someone in crisis in Denton, an officer partnered with a social worker will be the first responders asked to take the call.
This week, Denton Police Chief Frank Dixon told the city council he is fast-tracking the creation of the Mental Health Division of the police department by reallocating current open and frozen positions to hire licensed clinical social workers.
The department plans to hire five social workers. Four of them will partner with officers and one will oversee the unit.
“We’ve got to do a better job and we can’t always fall back on: cops get too much to do. We have to be smarter,” Chief Dixon told NBC 5.
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The unit will be made up of four officers who ride in an unmarked car and wear plain clothes. There will be a sergeant in the unit and two additional officers from the homeless outreach program.
“You see tragedies that are surrounded by police officers responding to people in crisis. I have not shied away from the fact that we have to do a better job in our profession in doing that,” said Dixon. “But, we’ve got to get our officers the training and the tools that they need to be able to do that successfully.”
Dixon plans to post the job openings within two weeks. He said he hopes to have the unit trained together and prepared to take calls by mid to late October, pending available face-to-face training due to COVID-19. Dixon said dispatchers will also receive more information about learning more from 911 callers to help identify a mental health crisis.
“This is exactly what defunding the police looks like, him taking positions that they already have assigned and allocated and reallocating those positions for resources that will help them better police,” said Katina Stone-Butler, a member of the mayor’s ad-coc committee to review use of force policies.
Stone-Butler has experience in the healthcare field and her husband is a retired law enforcement officer. Stone-Butler said she’s encouraged by the creation of a mental health division, but said there’s more work to do to acknowledge the damage done in the black community in Denton – referring to the city’s disbanding of Quakertown.
Quakertown was a thriving black community in the 1800s. Denton took the land from black residents and business owners at the turn of the century and moved many people to the southeast side of town. Some in the black community left Denton and never returned.
“What that did to displace black residents, it has impacted them for generations,” said Stone-Butler.
“My heart is to see that reparative work,” she added.
Stone-Butler said the next steps should include transparency and civilian oversight of citizen complaints and in use-of-force incidents. Stone-Butler also said the department must be proactive in weeding out racist and biased officers.
“We have a long way to go,” said Stone-Butler. “We have lots of things we need to work through, but these types of engagements and being able to have civil discourse, us being able to peacefully protest not just in the streets but behind the scenes."
Others said they are concerned any reforms offered up by police won’t go far enough.
Anjelica Fraga and Sam Escalante, founders of an anti-racist organization called Denton for Diversity, said the community needs to reprioritize tax dollars to address root causes of crime and crisis.
“We have taken all these societal problems such as poverty, homelessness, drug abuse and said: what we’re going to do is we are going to take policing and we are going to criminalize these things,” Escalante told NBC 5.
“Instead of thinking about the ways that we can police better and reform policing by making police friendlier or more responsive, we need to say: how can get away from policing as the solution to these problems?” Escalante added.
Thursday at 6 p.m., the ad-hoc committee on use of force is taking public comment.
The committee, approved by a council resolution last month, is asked to give recommendations to the city council by September.
By phone, people who want to weigh in on Thursday, call (940) 349-7800 beginning 30 minutes before the meeting starts.