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MISSION — Local law enforcement leaders gathered at the Mission Events Center Thursday morning to partake in a workshop aimed at addressing mental health needs throughout Hidalgo County.
Police chiefs, judges and mental health experts spent the day learning about the Sequential Intercept Model, or SIM, a map that details how individuals suffering from mental health crises and substance abuse issues move through judicial systems.
The workshop was hosted by Hidalgo County District Attorney Toribio “Terry” Palacios, who said that the purpose of the workshop is to help identify those individuals so that they can receive proper services.
“It’s a cooperation between all of us from the get-go of having people or police that are sensitive to mental health issues that are trained for that all the way to the court system where they actually commit them,” Palacios said. “Right now, a person that gets committed or found incompetent has to wait about 900 days in county before they get a bid to try to restore their competency. I think there’s ways you can try to deal with that early on in stages instead of having them jailed and deteriorate in our jail.”
Tropical Texas Behavioral Health CEO Terry Crocker addressed the group early on in the workshop. He expressed joy in the number of participants present at Thursday’s workshop.
“The Valley has come a very long way in exchange of services and resources, but obviously, we still have a ways to go,” Crocker said. “There’s a lot of issues that we need to work on.”
The SIM breaks down the process that individuals may experience as they progress through the criminal justice system into six stages — from the moment that they are experiencing a crisis all the way to when they are released from jail or prison.
“There’s obviously a lack of help available when it comes to defendants that are going through a mental crisis that are going through the judicial system,” state District Judge Marla Cuellar said. “What we’re attempting to do is to work with our local mental health providers in order to assist them because we have no program in this county or in this entire area available that will allow individuals that either have been determined to have mental incapacity — whether it is through an illness or whether it is trauma based — to be able to assist them in order to understand the judicial system understand the help that they need.”
Mission Police Chief Cesar Torres said that he has seen vast improvements in mental health education among law enforcement agencies since he first began his police career 32 years ago.
“Back then, law enforcement would typically, place some of these folks that are going through crises in jail,” Torres said. “The idea is to get them the proper help because mental health is more common. We do not want to confuse a mental health episode or crisis for someone who has been uncooperative or intoxicated or under drugs.
“That’s the importance of this, we want to recognize it and get the proper help. And help is not jail for them.”