mental health

Team of Mental Health Experts Dispatched to Police, Fire Calls in SE Dallas County

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Four North Texas cities are teaming up to help people suffering from mental health issues.

A new program is aimed at helping police by using professionals trained to detect and defuse difficult encounters.

White SUVs with small decals are rolling out in Mesquite, Balch Springs, Seagoville and Sunnyvale hoping to ease the burden on police and get people the help they need.

The statistics are troubling: One in five adults is living with a mental health issue, according to social worker Melissa Carr. The numbers, however, are not exclusive to this southeastern sector.

An estimated 20% of 911 calls involve a mental health crisis.

The Southeast Alliance Community Care Team aims at reducing those numbers.

“For the first time in a very long time as a social worker, I feel like we’re going to be able to do something to bring those numbers down,” she said.

Carr, who is also the city of Mesquite’s mental health program coordinator, is tasked with leading the new teams.

Each Southeast Alliance Community Care Team includes a mental health professional, a social worker and a paramedic. The team will respond to police and fire calls involving someone with signs of mental health problems.

The team will also seek out people experiencing homelessness to offer help and resources.

“The team will help de-escalate a crisis by using trauma-informed care and harm-reduction techniques,” said Carr. “The team will assist public safety in a supportive role to enhance the ability to identify the factors in the call and to help provide decision-making for the citizen in need.”

The Southeast Alliance Community Care Teams will also provide transportation to mental health clinics that have partnered with the program.

Dallas County allotted about one million dollars of federal CARES Act money for the program.

“Every call does not need a “first responder” law enforcement,” said county commissioner John Wiley Price whose district includes the four cities involved in the effort.

The commissioner says the program, which originated in Oregon, is already successfully running in Irving and Southwest Dallas County.

He hopes it will avoid tragic encounters.

“Even when you deal with across the country whether it was a George Floyd or anything else, what we have seen is a lot of this has to do with mental health issues,” he said.

Balch Spring’s deputy chief of police Brent Hurley welcomes the additional resources, saying some officers are not fully trained to handle mental health calls.

“The officers are very excited,” he said. “It’s great to have this response team who’s going to be there to help guide us through these situations so we can get people the help they need and not have them in the criminal justice system.”

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