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Denton Police Department Plans Mental Health Initiatives

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The Denton Police Department has accelerated its timeline to add a Mental Health Division to its police department.

Denton Police Chief Frank Dixon said he's been working on plans for the new program since he joined the force in 2018. He recently explained his department's plans to the City Council.

The new division will include five social workers, a sergeant and six police officers — including two from the department's homeless outreach program.

"Because as we all know, there's a natural intersection between what our homeless outreach team does and mental illness," Dixon said.

Four of the social workers will act as first responders to calls related to mental illness, with police officers on stand-by to help if needed. The other social worker will oversee the unit.

Dixon said unlike police, the licensed counselors are trained, mental health professionals, so they will take the lead.

"We know that many times when police officers arrive on scene of a mental health call, [the] uniform just by shear nature has a tendency to put some people on edge," he said. "Obviously if you're suffering from a mental health crisis it's just going to exacerbate that."

The response to each call will vary on a case-by-case basis. Dixon said one call could be handled by just a counselor, whereas another may require help from multiple officers.

The Mental Health Division will also help connect people with community resources and follow up with them after the initial call to ensure their health and safety.

He didn't say when the department would post the new jobs, but he said he's working on that as the next step in getting the division up and running.

Denton Police are also introducing a new initiative next month called "Take Me Home" to assist community members with autism, dementia or mental illness.

Dixon said the program will allow people to send the police department information about loved ones so officers can respond to calls involving them appropriately.

Families can send pictures, information about likes and dislikes and places the person likes to spend time when they're away from home.

"Our hope is that we get that information on the front end so we can proactively go out and look for these folks and return them to their families safe," Dixon said.

He added that the information provided to police will be confidential.

Got a tip? Email Rebekah Morr at rmorr@kera.org. You can follow her on Twitter @Bekah Morr. 

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