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GC to provide mental health response training for law enforcement

Staff Writer
Herald Democrat
Grayson College will provide training for police officers and law enforcement on mental health issues this fall.

Grayson College will be partnering with the Texoma Behavioral Health Leadership Team this fall to help prepare law enforcement for dealing with calls involving mental health incidents.

The college and TBHLT announced this week that the team will be sponsoring mental health officer training for Texoma law enforcement agencies to help officers know how to respond during mental health crises, college officials said.

“Grayson College is proud to be a part of this effort,” Grayson College President Dr. Jeremy McMillen said. “As a member of the Texoma Behavioral Health Leadership Team, I’ve had the opportunity to learn so much. We are pleased to provide real tools and training related to mental health emergencies.”

The 40-hour program will be offered across three week-long sessions at no charge to officers or agencies thanks to the behavioral health team.

Whitney Redden, a licensed professional counselor, who will teach the course described it as an advanced-level course that will add onto previous crisis intervention training. In addition to providing mental health training, the course will also cover a variety of developmental disabilities including epilepsy, cerebral palsy and hear impairments.

“I think it is good for all levels of law enforcement from leadership to patrols,” Redden noted that street-level officers will likely use the skills learned in the course the most.

Redden said the principles of mental health peace officer training have been around for more than two decades but have seen increased exposure due to police-involved incidents in recent years that involved a mental health component.

Among these cases was the 2015 arrest of Sandra Bland in Waller County, Texas. Bland, who admitted to having mental health issues, died in police custody three days after her arrest following a traffic stop for failure to signal a lane change.

The incident and following lawsuits led to significant police reform and new requirements for de-escalation training and jailing practices.

“We’ve had some incidents that more training would have provided better outcomes for the people involved,” Redden referred specifically to the Sandra Bland case.

In some cases, officers may simply need to know what resources are available to those with mental health needs. In all cases, it ensures that officers are best equipped to provide the first level of assistance in these cases, Redden said.

“They are going to deal with it one way or another, but are we giving them the tools to do it,” she said. “If you only have a hammer in your toolbox then that is probably what you are going to use to do the job.”

Mental health training has been an ongoing goal for the Grayson County Sheriff’s Office dating back at least to the election of Tom Watt in 2016 and goals to have all deputies trained in this field.

“It has been a great asset for us to have deputies who have been through it, who are able to react and act in a manner that brings about a better conclusion,” GCSO Lt. John Holloway said.

Calls involving mental health concerns have becoming a growing issue over nearly four decades, Holloway said.

“The purpose of it was specifically for the mental health crisis that we are facing in law enforcement and the justice field as a whole,” Holloway said, estimating that 60 percent of the people who go through the county jail have symptoms or have been diagnosed with a mental health issue.

Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at mhutchins@heralddemocrat.com.