BURLESON COUNTY, TX — A Burleson County Sheriff’s deputy is backing a bill aimed at changing the way Texas law enforcement agencies handle people dealing with mental health emergencies. The deputy testified before a House committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety in Austin last week.
HB 3075 would require law enforcement agencies to keep a record of any time that a patrol officer or jailer comes into contact with an individual undergoing a mental health crisis. Several members of the Texas Crisis Intervention Team [CIT] Association testified last week, sharing their views on how the bill might be helpful. This group included Burleson County Sheriff’s deputy Shawn Edwards, who has 15 years of mental health service experience in law enforcement.
“What this is going to help us do, is have those measures to apply for grants - to apply for other services that will help us better care for an individual with a mental health condition,” Edwards said.
Edwards is dedicated to advocating for people with mental issues, and said he makes efforts to assist officers in deescalating encounters with those under mental duress. His ultimate goal is to offer people in psychological crisis a chance to receive medical attention, in lieu of being jailed.
"One of our biggest goals is to bridge the gap between law enforcement and mental health services," Edwards said. "There sometimes is a breakdown in communication or understanding, and if we can build that understanding... it’s always good to have people you can rely on, to help support individuals to get back on track.”
The National Alliance on Mental Illness [NAMI] partnered with the CIT Association on drafting the bill and testifying in Austin.
"We’re hopeful because of the Black Lives Matter movement and criminal justice reform movement that’s happening, and this idea that the interaction between law enforcement and people experiencing a mental health crisis needs to change," said Matthew Lovitt, peer policy fellow for NAMI of Texas, who testified alongside Dep. Edwards. "... So [we hope] we can reduce the number of people in the criminal justice system with mental health concerns.”
HB 3075 has yet to go before the House or the Senate. But Edwards said he was encouraged by the response when giving his testimony last week, and is hopeful for the bill’s future. Additionally, an identical companion bill has been drafted for the state senate, SB 1844. Lawmakers hope this will give the legislation an even better chance of passing.
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