FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) - Training starts next week for the 10 people who will make up Fort Worth Police Department's new civilian response team and help handle calls like minor accidents and welfare checks.
The new team is part of a promised adjustment to policing strategies in the city that also included tripling the size of the department's crisis intervention team. Those two crisis teams, made up of 10 members each, are now answering as many as 1,000 calls a month, as well as following up on cases to ensure people they interact with are staying on track.
"We have so many tools on our tool belt than just arresting people and taking them to jail," said Lt. Amy Ladd, who leads the crisis teams.
The department has had a six-person team in place since 2017 but expanded it late last year after a review by an external police reform panel and community calls for new approaches to policing.
The officers, who don't wear traditional police uniforms, are specially trained in mental health. When there are suicide threats, barricaded persons, or someone in distress, patrol officers will call crisis teams to assist.
"We go out, we build relationships, we meet people where they're at" Ladd said. "We assess what services we can provide them."
While aimed at reducing negative interactions between officers and individuals with behavioral issues, the teams also do follow-up, checking on people once they return home to try to reduce repeat calls.
The approach was shown last week at an arson call on the city's south side, where a man was setting fires in his front yard and the street. Recognizing the possible mental health issues involved, fire department arson investigators called in a crisis team to address the situation.
The timing of the expansion was beneficial, as Ladd said the isolation of the pandemic has contributed to a higher mental health call volume for the department.
The department is also putting all sworn officers through a 40-hour training program on de-escalation and reduction of use-of-force on incidents that involve someone impacted by mental health.
Ladd credited partnerships with the fire department, Tarrant County My Health My Resources, and the district attorney's office, which is creating a diversion program as an option for some offenders.
"Law enforcement in general is learning that traditional tools of law enforcement, i.e. enforcement, does not work for every call that we have to answer in the community," Ladd said. "So we're having to learn to pivot."
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