San Marcos to add two mental health officers after spike in cases

By: 

News Reporter

San Marcos to add two mental health officers after spike in cases.

The San Marcos Police Department may soon see two new faces on the force.

City council passed the first of two readings Jan. 20 for a $266,538 grant to be added to the 2014-2015 budget for two new mental health officers.

SMPD currently employs one mental health officer to serve the entire city. Chase Stapp, chief of police, and Howard Williams, who formerly held the position, noticed a rise in mental health cases and applied for a grant in 2013 to hire two more officers.  

Mental health officers assist in crises and ensure those in need get immediate help with medication, counseling and access to facilities, Stapp said.

The amount of mental health cases has increased 98 percent since 2012, rising to 700 investigations in 2014, Stapp said. The department uses patrol officers when the current mental health specialist is dealing with another case.

“Only having one mental health officer has forced us to use regular patrol officers if he is ever tied up,” Stapp said. “This not only takes away department resources, but it may also effect the outcome of the encounter during a mental health crisis.”

Citizens who call can end up going to jail if the department does not have the resources to help, Stapp said.

Todd Salmi, pastor for First United Methodist Church, spoke at the Jan. 30 city council meeting in favor of the grant because of his own experience with a mental health crisis.

“I told (city council members) I once had to call 911 for someone I was counseling who was contemplating suicide,” Salmi said. “A mental health officer responded and was able to completely defuse the situation.”

Salmi was amazed by how well-trained the police officer was, easily creating a conversation and keeping the situation under control.

“What I saw was truly amazing,” Salmi said. “He ensured the man got the help he received and because of that he was able to attend a court date later that day.”

The patient’s family would have been evicted and homeless if he had missed the appointment, Salmi said.

“This goes so far beyond just the initial contact the officer makes,” Salmi said. “It can lead to better care and a better quality of life.”

Salmi said metal health officers help veterans coming home from war with invisible wounds such post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as students dealing with the stress of college.

Robert Herndon, a clinical social worker for Cedar Creek Associates, has had a private practice in San Marcos since 1991 and believes the city can benefit greatly from the added officers.

“It is urgent we get more mental health officers,” Herndon said. “This area is terribly underserved when it comes to mental health resources.”

Herndon thinks the two new officers will be a critical step in the right direction but will not solve everything.

“A lot of people dealing with these issues do not belong in the penal system,” Herndon said. “This way they can be handled by someone with an expertise on mental health.”

The second reading and final approval for the grant is scheduled for the Feb. 3 city council meeting. The hiring process is projected to begin by Feb. 19 if funding is approved, Stapp said.