Daily Record graphic by Colton Ashabranner
SMPD Mental Health Unit helps residents
More than 2,700 communities in the United States have crisis intervention teams to respond to mental health emergencies, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. San Marcos is one of those communities.
The San Marcos Police Department’s Mental Health Unit is available to respond when needed.
“Calls to the Mental Health Unit can come directly from citizens,” SMPD Assistant Chief Brandon Winkenwerder said. “Most of the time mental health units will self-dispatch to a mental health call when it happens. All of the officers at SMPD have been trained in the state’s 40-hour Mental Health Officer Course.”
According to the SMPD website, the Mental Health Unit consists of a corporal, two officers and a certified therapy K-9 named Sheldon Cooper.
“The officers are dedicated to positively impact the quality of life for the citizens of San Marcos by assisting those suffering from a variety of mental illnesses,” the website states. “The Mental Health Unit officers help the individuals in crisis and assure the person gets the help he or she needs.”
The Mental Health Unit works with Hill Country Mental Health Developmental Disabilities (MHDD) to give people assistance, Winkenwerder said.
“Much of their work is proactive with Hill Country to identify people who might be getting close to a crisis and get them help prior to full crisis event. This is where the program pays big dividends for the police department,” he said. “If we can identify someone by regularly checking on them and getting them to Hill Country for help, you have saved a tremendous amount of manpower by not having to deal with someone in full crisis.”
If someone is in a full crisis, Winkenwerder said, officers evaluate the need for an emergency detention based on the person’s behavior and answers to questions.
“If someone is a danger to themselves state law allows for someone to be detained under an emergency detention to a hospital to receive evaluation and treatment,” Winkenwerder said. “Generally the first stop is a local hospital for evaluation. Also at the local level if someone is so violent they need sedation a doctor can order it. The evaluations are normally done by Hill Country MHDD.
“If someone needs to go to a mental health facility we will transport them to the facility once the evaluations from the professionals are completed. Some transports to mental health facilities are done by ambulance service also.”
Winkenwerder emphasized that just because police are involved, it doesn’t mean the incident has anything to do with criminal charges.
“Everyone should know that this is not a criminal proceeding and there is nothing that will show up on someone’s criminal history,” he said. “We all understand the need to get someone in crisis help when they may not recognize it themselves.”
Winkenwerder said the Mental Health Unit and all SMPD officers have basic training in first aid and CPR, along with advanced self-aid and “buddy aid” that teaches how to treat traumatic wounds. In addition to that training, the Mental Health Unit undergoes additional crisis negotiations training — 40 hours in Level 1 and 32 hours in Level 2.
Winkenwerder said that right now, there are three mental health officers who work different hours to provide coverage from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
“We are looking toward expanding the unit at some point in the future to cover more hours,” Winkenwerder said. “They can be called out to help or provide guidance to officers at any time, and they don’t mind the call out because they are dedicated to what they are doing.”
To contact the SMPD Mental Health Unit, call 911 in an emergency; 512-753-2108 for non-emergency dispatch; or 512-393-8081 extension 9100 to leave a voicemail message. The email for the unit is firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition, the Hill Country Community MHDD Mobile Crisis Outreach Team can be reached at 512-392-7151.