Only available mental health officer was en route during deadly shooting

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Wednesday, four Austin police officers faced a man holding a knife inside the Spring Condominiums on Bowie Street downtown.

Chief Brian Manley said the man was in crisis, and a mental health officer was requested to the scene.

KXAN learned Thursday the mental health officer was at a different crisis call and was heading to 300 Bowie Street, but by the time he arrived, the other responding officers had opened fire.

APD said they have 162 mental health officers on the force who receive a $175 monthly stipend, and they try to have at least two trained officers on per shift.

City’s audit criticized APD’s mental health response

Last year, Austin’s Office of Auditor released a report criticizing some aspects of APD’s responses to crisis calls.

Earlier this year, the city hired the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute to conduct a thorough review of police and other agencies’ responses to mental health incidents.

The report said 42% of Austin’s police officers have received advanced training to handle crisis calls, but there are only 162 officers who receive stipends. APD said “there has been a request to increase that number in the current budget process.”

A bigger picture shows the number of crisis calls is on the rise in Austin, but the report found it is rare to see those calls turn deadly.

According to the report, APD responded to 32,027 crisis calls in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Of those, only 2% involved some type of force. Less than 1% involved deadly force.

How APD officers are trained

All APD cadets receive 40 hours of mental health training. They can choose to receive an additional 40 hours of training to become mental health officers.

NAMI Central Texas helps with those sessions.

“We bring in at least two individuals who have had police interactions previously, who live with a mental illness, and they share their stories,” said Karen Ranus, Executive Director of NAMI Central Texas.

She said people who have mental illnesses share with police what the officers can do. “Simple things like really being able to speak clearly and softly and create some distance when a person is in a situation where they’re in a crisis,” Ranus explained.

They also do a simulation of what it’s like to experience hearing voices.

Ranus said, “Almost all people who are having crisis are having racing thoughts, hearing, having some kind of auditory hallucinations. What that does is create a deeper level of empathy and understanding, why the slowing down the situation and creating a little bit of space is very helpful “

She told KXAN while even one life lost is heartbreaking, “Every single day police officers are stepping into situations of crisis where they are helping people get to the care they need.”

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