Texas State University creates new position for Mental Health Officer

Hays

SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — Mental health crisis? There’s a new officer in town to help now.

Texas State University appointed Officer Jessica Kinney as the leader of the Mental Health Community Liaison Program in November 2020. The university said she’s been with its police force for three years and has 10 years of law enforcement experience.

According to Texas State, this is a part of an effort to take a more holistic approach to policing.

“You need some kind of passion and some kind of understanding,” Kinney said. “A lot of people, that’s what they want.”

Texas State University Police said in the past year and a half alone, they’ve responded to 78 mental health calls. Though not all students are back on campus right now, they do still believe there’s a need. 

When Kinney responds to a call, it goes like this: 

“I identify myself as a mental health officer, my name and who I’m with… and I let them know, first and foremost, I’m here to help you, you’re not in any trouble,” Kinney said. “[I say to them], ‘Just let me know what’s going on with you.'”

After her intervention, police will decide the next step to take. 

“I do have to ask them certain questions — if they’re feeling suicidal, if they’re homicidal,” Kinney said.

It’s something Texas State senior Raylon Knowles is glad to have on campus now.

“I appreciate them not only trying to build that relationship with campus police and the student body, but also for making mental health a predominant topic,” Knowles said.

Kinney leads with compassion, because this role is personal. 

“As a black woman, we do have a tendency to think we don’t need to get mental help, that there’s nothing wrong with us,” she said.

Just being there to say ‘it’s OK,’ Kinney hopes to be a ray of light in a possibly dark situation. 

“As long as I’m open with them and honest, that’s all they want,” she said.

Certified as a Health Peace Officer, Kinney will assist mental health calls by assessing each situation carefully and considering the unique circumstances of everyone involved. She will show up in an unmarked vehicle and a less formal police uniform to make your average person feel comfortable.

According to the university, Kinney has experience with the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office’s mental health services, which led to her certification.

Before her position was created, Texas State said university police responded to mental health calls as they would any other patrol calls for service.

According to the university, the police department did not have access to the same specialized training as Kinney.

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