The Austin Police Chief gave new details about what led to the death of a shoplifting suspect in the back of a police patrol car on Tuesday.
This case is just one of many recent mental health incidents in Austin. In fact, the Austin Police Department is reporting an increase of mental health calls, year after year.
“Everybody is more aware of mental illness nowadays with what’s going on, on the news,” said James Turner, Senior Officer at Austin Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team.
The department is reporting a steady rise in mental health related incidents in the past five years.
“I think more people are reporting it, and our officers are better at reporting it now than they were even six years ago,” said Officer Turner.
He said another factor is the population increase within the city.
In 2011, the department reported more than 8,000 mental health-related incidents. By 2016, the number rose to more than 11,800.
However, the number of calls leading to an arrest actually went down from 296 to 198.
“I think one of the main aspects, one of the culture shift, as a police department, as a society, to less criminalize this population, less ignore the problem and to be proactive,” said Turner.
At the same time, he said things can get very tricky when things take a potentially dangerous turn.
“There isn’t a magic bullet for lack of a better term, to deal with a mentally ill person versus a person just trying to be a criminal,” said Turner, “Our community stakeholders have programs and resources that many people across the state have no access to. Can the system be better? Are there holes individuals who need help that are not getting it? Absolutely.”
According to the Crisis Intervention Team, the most effective way for most people suffering from mental health issues to heal is through getting support from family and friends.
Those close to the person should help keep tabs on them and hold them accountable through the healing process.
If you know someone who needs help, you can contact Austin-Travis County Integral Care at 512-472-HELP.