As camping ban education phase begins, APD is working to get all officers mental health training

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Tuesday marked the start of Austin’s 30-day educational period for the new camping ban. Police will be educating people experiencing homelessness on what will be required before making them clear out of sidewalks and other areas across town.

“I’m glad that they just didn’t sweep today,” said Richard Bryant, who camps across from Austin City Hall.

However, Bryant said he’s still concerned about where he’ll go and how he’ll be treated in the process.

The Austin Police Department is designating all of its district representatives and its Homeless Outreach Street Team, or HOST, to help move people out of areas where they’re no longer allowed to camp over the next few months.

“On a full-time basis, we will have enough officers to move through the plan, as well as informing all of our patrol officers that are doing their normal duties, so that they have awareness and when it’s necessary and appropriate to be able to step in and to become part of the plan as well.”

While HOST is made up of officers who’ve been trained to handle mental health issues along with social workers and paramedics, KXAN learned not all patrol officers have gotten training to help them better respond to someone having a mental health crisis.

That training is important when working with people experiencing homeless, because Integral Care said 30 to 50% of Austin’s homeless population also struggles with mental health issues.

In 2019, APD set out to train all of its officers through a 40-hour crisis intervention course, but the department said many of those training courses had to be canceled during 2020 due to the pandemic.

The department said it began holding the training classes again in December 2020 and has put 251 officers through the course since it was mandated in 2019.

Currently, there are 330 CIT-certified officers assigned to patrol, according to APD.

In addition to the 40-hour course APD is working to get all existing officers through, Texas law also now requires officers who only hold a Basic Peace Officer or Intermediate Proficiency Certificate to take another type of crisis intervention course. That applies to some APD officers.

Any new Austin officers coming in will also undergo another initial 40 hours of mental health training during the cadet academy.

So, it’s possible that once all of their training is complete, some APD officers would have 80 or even 120 hours of mental health training.

Once officers go through APD’s CIT training, they are all required to do a 10-hour mental health refresher course yearly.

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