HARRIS COUNTY, Texas - Harris County Sheriff's deputies are on the front lines of dealing with people suffering from mental illness.
"More and more we're receiving calls from someone who is in crisis," said Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. It's why Gonzalez wanted his agency to launch the 'telepsych' pilot program, a first of its kind in the country.
"With this iPad we're able to contact a psychiatrist anywhere in the U.S.," said deputy Jose Gomez. "They'll be able to talk to psychiatrist while we're on scene. Real time."
The program was developed by Houston-based JSA Health Corp. Psychiatrists will be on call 24/7 to video chat with people deputies encounter on calls. Telepsych started Tuesday. KHOU was there was more deputies were trained on the new system.
"This gives them one more tool to better triage the situation and they'll have a medical professional give them guidance in the field about what some options are for them," said Gonzalez.
The pilot will run for at least 8 weeks or when it's used on 25 to 30 calls, but Sheriff Gonzalez says he expects them to hit that call total before that time is up. And in a time where communities are grappling with how to prevent things like mass shootings, Gonzalez believes this program could help prevent bigger crimes down the road by getting people help before it's too late.
"We've seen that mental illness played a part or some role with these individuals, so to triage up front and hopefully get them the help that they need, that's a big step forward," said Gonzalez.