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Harris County launching pilot programs geared at curbing violent crimes

In one program, mental health professionals would respond to certain 911 calls to free up police officers to deal with the violent crimes.

HOUSTON — Harris County leaders are launching two pilot programs aimed at fighting violent crime.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, Commissioner Rodney Ellis and representatives from the Harris County Public Health Department explained the programs in a news conference Wednesday.

"The HART teams will consist of trained social workers, behavioral health medical professionals who can provide appropriate responses for those experiencing homelessness, behavioral health issues, health crises or other non-emergency, non-violent issues."

The idea of the HART program is to free up law enforcement so officers can handle violent crime and other emergencies.

"We expect too much of law enforcement. We call up the police department or sheriff's deputy for every problem we have," said Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis. "If the issue is violence, they will handle it. If its not violence, we'll get the experts to that area that can handle it."

The HART program will begin in Cypress Station in March.

 In Eugene, Oregon, a similar program called CAHOOTS has been serving communities there for more than 30 years. Unarmed crisis workers and EMTs there respond to over 20 percent of 911 calls.

They also discussed the Gun Violence Interruption Program, which targets people in the county at high risk for committing violent crimes with intervention techniques.

"We know with a public health approach that there are opportunities for us to prevent violence, to intervene and address the root causes of violence," explained Harris County Public Health Executive Director Barbie Robinson.

The Sunnyside neighborhood is the pilot location for it. 

County leaders hope to expand both county-wide. 

They'll be funded with $1.4 billion approved for public safety and justice programs in Harris County.

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