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Rethinking the way mental health crises are handled in the Coastal Bend area

Senior officer Shawn Barnes brought several ideas to the table focusing on improving response to mental health crises. He hopes they can one day be implemented.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Local law enforcement joined quite a number of mental health service providers to discuss how to improve the way mental health crises are handled in our area. 

The discussion taking place on the campus of Del Mar College. 

Senior Corpus Christi Police Department officer Shawn Barnes listed off several ideas on how to improve response for those suffering from mental illness.

When Barnes responds to a call involving a mental health crisis, it often doesn't start out that way. 

"Starts out as a suspicious person, comes in as a theft, a person down on the ground.  It comes in one way and when you get there, it's something totally different, this is an illness related behavior," he said. 

Barnes has served as a crisis intervention coordinator and mental health officer for CCPD for the last three years. His job, to help deescalate a situation and make sure the person needs are identified.

"Completely in line with our mission statement of increasing public safety to have someone like this, they can be dangerous situations," he said. 

Having recently attended the International Crisis Intervention Convention in Pittsburgh, Barnes learned measures other cities around the globe are doing to help improve or re-think the way mental health crises are handled.

He shared those ideas with the packed room. 

One of his ideas included the use of suicide prevention sings at places like the Harbor Bridge and JFK Causeway.

"Part of that idea potentially, call boxes at the Harbor Bridge or JFK and even stenciling along the ground that has nothing but positive statements as you walk up the bridge.  If you think about it, you are upset depressed, you are looking down.  If you are considering something like that there's some messages to help you change your mind," said Barnes.

He also talked about creating a network of partnerships with gun shops even law enforcement agencies to provide a safe place to store your fire arm during a time of need.

"Why doesn't this exist.  It doesn't infringe on your rights.  Not everyone has someone they can trust, going over there and say I just want to turn this over for a little while and then get it back later."

Barnes also taking time to announce he will be getting another dedicated full time officer to help with mental health response.

Among the partnering agencies in attendance tonight were folks with MHID who call the partnership crucial.

 "They're seeing everybody that we need to get access to, to provide treatment to, so it only makes sense they have a mental health professional riding with them," said Andrea Kovarik, director of mental health services with MHID.

Kovarik said another way to help is the creation of a diversion and restoration center which is already underway, a middle ground to provide assistance to those in need.

"A resource for officers and those who are intercepting people on the street, not just for officers also for medical centers being over run," said Kovarik.

Another idea, a court that specifically deals with mental health cases.

Officer Barnes said many of the ideas are free to implement but it takes everyone to get involved.

The gathering was made possible through the efforts of the local NAMI chapter that is dedicated to improving the lives of those affected by mental illness.

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