The article by KXAN titled “Williamson Co. on a mission to make sure jail cells aren’t filled unnecessarily” has us scratching our heads. Chody disbanded the award-winning CIT unit as one of his first moves as Sheriff. Here we are almost three years later and thankfully, somebody has intervened and helped him recognize the importance of it.
The difference: Prior to Chody, if there was a mental health call, there would be a designated CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) deputy assigned to the call. After Chody, deputies were assigned to work regular duties and if there was a mental health call, they would be on shift but may be on the other side of the county working another call. This decision was not a budget call, as Chody made the decison entirely on his own and without consulting or requesting funds from the commissioners.
The Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) program is a community partnership of law enforcement, mental health and addiction professionals, individuals who live with mental illness and/or addiction disorders, their families, and other advocates. It is an innovative first-responder model of police-based crisis intervention training to help persons with mental disorders and/or addictions access medical treatment rather than place them in the criminal justice system due to illness-related behaviors. It also promotes officer safety and the safety of the individual in crisis. (CIT International -citinternational.org)
Pre-Chody Williamson County had an award-winning Crisis Intervention Team since 2005
History of the Crisis Intervention Team at Williamson County:
In November of 2005, the Wilco Commissioners Court reassigned all Precinct 1 Mental Health Deputies to the Sheriff’s Office. Mike Gleason was assigned as a Lieutenant to the Patrol Division and was a TCOLE Licensed Mental Health Officer. After consulting with Sheriff James R Wilson he was given command of the new CIT Unit. In 2005 he recruited recently retired Travis County CIT Deputy Mike Sorenson. He was given the rank of Sergeant and they completely changed the current structure.
They moved the unit completely offsite of the SO and made all members plain clothed and unmarked cars as required by law. This was to reduce the stigma of people having to visit the SO for non-criminal services. These Deputies were full time county employees and NOT grant funded. These Deputies also receive a monthly stipend for the specialized training they receive. The deputies worked 24/7 with the exception of the early morning hours at which point the oncoming deputy was called in if needed. This schedule worked due to it being statically accurate. Specialized deputies cannot be assigned to a shift. It has been proven time and time again to fail. As it does with K9, Traffic accident investigators etc., when you need them for their expertise they are on a call, at the jail, on vacation, sick, training, etc.
This unit also provided services for countywide inclusive of all municipalities. The new CIT Unit was so successful they were invited around the state to develop and train other police agencies on how to start their programs and develop relationships with the courts and mental health stakeholders in their communities
This was the development of professional Jail and ER Diversion in Mental Health. The numerous awards and accolades were the proof of their success. The Wilco CIT unit was also invited to the State Capitol to advise the legislature on rewriting the Health and Safety Code as it pertained to Mental Health. The CIT Unit has also been a sustaining member of the Williamson County Mental Health Task Force until the CIT Units dissolution in 2017.
According to a commissioner, the CIT unit was not grant funded, but funded from the SO budget from the general fund. Chody made the changes without discussing with anybody outside if his office, therefore no funding requests were denied.
“Until we were made aware of the CIT we had felt helpless, lost and completely alone in handling this mental illness. Thanks to the CIT, our daughter was able to get the treatment she needed and did not become another innocent lost in the system.”
Since its inception in 2005, the CIT program has diverted 4,444 people in crisis from the justice system and local emergency rooms, saving tax payers $10,653,000. During this time, the CIT has handled 42,020 mental health calls and were able to divert offenders nearly 11 percent of the time. In the last two years, 292 people were diverted from jail or local ERs, saving tax payers over $700,000. The program also assists mentally ill individuals with transportation to services. In the last two years CIT provided transportation to 376 people to help them access mental health treatment needed for their recovery.
The Williamson County CIT program has been funded by the Williamson County Commissioners Court as a part of the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office for the last 10 years.
2015 Williamson County employee received the Behavioral Health Professional of the Year Award
When Chody took office in January of 2017, one of the first things he did was disband the CIT unit and designate a deputy the CIT deputy on the shift. It’s unclear what the requirements were, as Luera was given the CIT stipend upon hiring, but previously there would’ve been a requirement to be a Licensed Mental Health Officer. As you can see, Luera’s training record does not reflect that.
It is a well-known fact that deputies coming from APD took a pay cut to come to Wilco. To make up for that, it is commonly known that Chody would give them all the opportunities for extra pay available. To use the CIT stipend to supplement their pay while they don’t have the training to actually do the job is, well, just wrong.
Who else received the CIT stipend and was not qualified to answer CIT calls? An Open Records Request will determine that. Of course, since all ORR have to go to the sheriff before they can be responded to, it might take a while.