The Mission Police Department has begun a new program that aims to provide officers with more details prior to responding to situations involving mentally ill residents.
The Behavioral Health Awareness Initiative, introduced at the last city council meeting, is a voluntary questionnaire that Mission citizens can fill out with factual information about behavioral health-related issues a person in their household is dealing with in the event that the police are called to the scene.
It includes space where a person can identify their family member’s gender, age, and if they are currently being treated for a mental illness such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and alcohol or drug abuse.
Information about a person’s doctor and if they are prescribed a specific medication can also be given. According to City Manager Martin Garza, Jr., as well as Police Chief Robert Dominguez, all information will be kept confidential.
“The purpose of this initiative is really to prepare the police officers with the best information available to them to be able to handle and respond to calls for service,” Garza said. “Information is crucial for any police officer or first responder.”
The city manager said they were taking the details and using them as tools to better prepare officers who respond to these types of calls. According to Chief Dominguez, the police department receives five to ten of these kinds of calls every week.
“I think it’s important to our officers and to our supervisors that are responding to these types of calls,” Dominguez said. “And I think that the families in the long run will look at the positive benefits of us having that information. Overall I think it will benefit a lot of our citizens.”
Garza, stressed that the information will be received by the PD on a volunteer basis. Garza said that when creating the form, the city was careful to ensure no HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) laws will be violated, and no private information will be shared.
“It is sensitive,” Garza said. “But at the same time we believe that it’s information that could save lives.”
As previously reported by the Progress Times, on Feb. 22 this year a wrongful death lawsuit was filed against the city after the death of David M. Green II. Green was shot by officers after his father had relayed details about his son’s mental illness to the dispatcher, who allegedly did not give the details to the officers.
“These are scenarios and situations that happen throughout the nation,” Garza said. “This is an initiative to prevent, but at the same time we just believe that when you have a well-informed officer and a well-equipped and well-trained officer, you’re going to better service the community.”
Dominguez believes this initiative will provide officers and dispatchers the opportunity to be proactive rather than reactive.
“Unfortunately you hear about all these cases where there’s a confrontation with the mentally ill, some are being tased, some are being shot, and you get in a situation where somebody is hurt or somebody is killed,” Dominguez said. “And sometimes you think of the different ways where we could have avoided such confrontation.
Every situation is different, and we try our best to look at what we can do, but obviously I think having this information ahead of time will help make the appropriate decisions in these types of cases.”
Once the forms are completed, Mission dispatchers will have access to these questionnaires in a database system.
In the event they receive a call and are informed by the caller that they have filed a Behavioral Health Awareness Initiative questionnaire, the dispatcher will then be able to relay the details to officers prior to entering the scene.
The Police Chief also added that the department has gone through specific training geared toward handling scenarios involving the mentally ill.
“Based on the prevailing problems that exist in our growing community, we adjust our training to address our officers and to make sure that they’re given instruction on how to respond to these calls for service,” Dominguez said.
This particular initiative is the first of its kind in the Rio Grande Valley, according to both the Chief and City Manager. They both hope it will encourage other cities and municipalities to follow suit.
The Behavioral Health Awareness Initiative involved the City of Mission, the Mission Police Department, the Behavioral Center, Risk Manager Robert D. Hinojosa and the Human Resources Department. It took a few months to finalize before being made available to the public, and Garza also said there has been an increase in these types of calls to the police department.
“The City of Mission is growing,” Garza said. “The Rio Grande Valley is growing. With that, the population with different types of needs is also growing. And we want to make sure that our officers are properly prepared and have that information with them to be able to be of better service.”
Any questions about the initiative or filling out the paperwork can be answered by Diana Macias, the Crime Victims Liaison, at (956) 584-5052.