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Mental health officer program to start

Victoria Advocate - 3/29/2017

March 29--Mental Health Officer Interlocal Agreement by Victoria Advocate on Scribd

Two peace officers in Victoria County may soon be dedicated to helping people with mental illness.

The Gulf Bend Center's Board of Trustees on Tuesday approved an interlocal agreement between the center and the Victoria Police Department and Victoria County Sheriff's Office.

Each law enforcement agency will provide a peace officer and a patrol car for the center.

This was made possible by a contract with the Health and Human Services Commission that goes until Aug. 31, Gulf Bend Executive Director Jeff Tunnell said.

The contract, which is still being negotiated, would give Gulf Bend up to $110,000 for mental health officers, said Carrie Williams, the Commission's chief press officer.

It is a component of a $730,216 contract the commission has with Gulf Bend for mental health psychiatric emergency services. About $146,043 of that contract is local monies, she said.

Both VPD and VCSO plan to send Gulf Bend a monthly bill for expenses such as the officers' wages, mileage and use of cellphones.

They will continue to lobby the legislature to fund an about $11.6 million jail diversion plan the Gulf Bend Community Collaborative created.

That plan calls for 14 mental health deputies, 12 mental health case workers and two supervisors to respond to crises 24/7 in the seven-county region over four years.

The collaborative is comprised of representatives from law enforcement, the medical community and nonprofits.

"I would hope the program would continue (after Aug. 31) under the Gulf Bend Collaborative program we are pursuing with the state," Victoria Police Chief J.J. Craig said.

Both top county law officials saw the two mental health officers as being a precursor to the Gulf Bend Collaborative plan.

"This is a wonderful opportunity ... to start a small scale program and work out any wrinkles," said Chief Deputy Roy Boyd, of the Victoria County Sheriff's Office.

They said the officers would be proactive and work with mental health case workers already employed at Gulf Bend.

"I think it's a very good thing for Victoria," Craig said. "There's a strain on law enforcement and a lot of social services. This is a great proactive step and a step in decriminalizing mental illness."

The county commissioners are expected to vote on the interlocal agreement April 3 and the City Council will vote April 4.

Both law enforcement agencies will have current officers apply for the positions. Craig said he's looking for an officer with years of experience and a mental health officer certification from the state, as well as an officer who shows interest and initiative.

The officer's hours may have to be flexible, he said.

Boyd said the deputy the sheriff's office is providing will be in uniform.

Jackson County, which has two mental health officers, will also get a reimbursement from the state via Gulf Bend, Tunnell said.

"If we can keep people from going to jail and get them the help they need, this program will be worth its weight in gold," Boyd said.

Of the 367 people booked into Crossroads county jails in February, 164 had a mental illness, according to Gulf Bend.

In Victoria, that number was 108.

Sixty-six inmates in the Victoria County Jail had what's considered a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder or schizoaffective disorder.


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