The Harris County Sheriff's Office (HCSO) was one of five law enforcement agencies nationwide selected as a Law Enforcement Mental Health Learning Site in April 2021. The five agencies selected in April join nine existing sites.
The HCSO is very excited to have received this distinction. We look forward to sharing our model programs and policies for responding to individuals in mental and/or behavioral health crisis in patrol and in the jail.
(Photo at right: Deputy Brittany Ortiz, CORE Coordinator, with CORE clinicians from The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD.)
About Harris County
Harris County, with a population of 4.1 million, is the most populous county in Texas and the third most populous in the United States. It is one of the largest counties in the nation in landmass, encompassing 1788 square miles. Harris County includes 41 incorporated municipalities and is one of the most culturally diverse counties in the nation. At least 145 languages are spoken in Harris County and there are 49 consulates general, 28 consulates, and 2 representative offices in Houston.
About the Harris County Sheriff's office
The Harris County Sheriff's Office (HCSO) is the largest sheriff's office in Texas and the third-largest in the United States, with nearly 4,600 employees and 200 reservists. In 2020, the average daily jail population was 8,316 and 26% of the jail population was on psychotropic medications. The HCSO jail is the largest mental health facility in Texas.
The HCSO has collaborated with Harris County's local mental health authority, The Harris Center for Mental Health and Intellectual and Developmental Disability (The Harris Center), since the 1970s on behavioral health programs in the jail. The HCSO and The Harris Center have collaborated on specialized mental health responses for patrol since 2011.
Harris County Sheriff's Office
1200 Baker Street
Houston, TX 77002
Our innovative award-winning program connecting patrol deputies to crisis clinicians via a computer tablet
Sergeant Jose (Rico) Gomez
A program for responding safely and effectively to individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Sergeant Jose (Rico) Gomez
A program for locating individuals who wander due to cognitive disabilities such as Alzheimer's Disease
Sergeant Jose (Rico) Gomez
Homeless Outreach Team
A specialized team responding to the unique needs of persons experiencing homelessness
Sergeant John Whitley
A program partnering a CIT-trained deputy with a masters-level clinician from The Harris Center
Sergeant Matthew Murphy
A specialized unit formed to regulate boarding homes in unincorporated Harris County
Sergeant Brian Tschudy
Front Door Services
A clinic providing psychiatric evaluation, medication maintenance, and crisis intervention. Operates 24/7. Staffed by behavioral health and medical personnel.
Mental Health infirmary
For the most seriously mentally ill inmates. The 108 beds are staffed by behavioral health and medical professionals. Services include case management and therapy.
A 284 bed unit for inmates requiring increased monitoring or who have chronic mental illnesses but who are not exhibiting acute symptoms.
Chronic Care Clinic
Staffed by registered nurses who provide ongoing monitoring of patients receiving psychotropic medications. Scheduled assessments by psychiatrist every 90 days.
Forensic Single Portal
A single point of contact for detainees with the objective of linking them with mental health services in the jail and in the community upon release.
The HCSO was one of the first sheriff's offices in the state to start a Vivitrol program. Vivitrol is a non-addictive, once-monthly opioid treatment.
Evaluations are conducted for defendants in the jail and those released on bond. Evaluations are made to determine if the defendant is competent to stand trial and/or to determine the defendant's mental state at the time of the alleged offense.
For information on the jail program in the Harris County Sheriff's Office contact:
Jail Diversion Center
The Judge Ed Emmett Mental Health Diversion Center (Jail Diversion Center) opened in September 2018. The facility is an integral part of Harris County's pre-charge jail diversion program. Offenders committing low-level, non-violent offenses when it is believed mental illness and/or psychosocial issues were a factor in the commission of the crime are diverted from jail to the Jail Diversion Center (JDC).
An example is a person who is homeless, suffers from mental illness, and stays in a building at night because he needs a place to sleep.
A study of the JDC conducted in 2020 found a 50% reduction in subsequent bookings after participants were diverted. Those with 5+ bookings were 3.1 times less likely to be booked into jail on a new offense than those not served at the JDC. For every $1 spent on diversion, the county avoided spending $5.54 on criminal justice costs.
For information on Harris County's jail diversion programs contact:
Sergeant Raymond Lomelo
Cite and Release
Texas passed legislation in 2007 giving peace officers the authority to issue a citation for a narrow selection of Class A and B misdemeanors rather than arresting the individual. The citation is an order to appear in court. The person is still held accountable for the crime. The program eliminates the arrest and short incarceration of the individual who would be out on bail in a day or two.
The Harris County Sheriff's Office implemented the program, Cite and Release, in February 2020. Crimes involving violence, individuals with warrants, or individuals with a history of criminality are NOT eligible for the program.
The program saves the county money, returns deputies to the field quicker, and eliminates the costly short-term incarceration of individuals innocent until proven guilty. The Houston Police Department, Harris County Sheriff's Office, and Pasadena Police Department issued the most citations in 2020.
"The only thing more expensive than education is ignorance."
- Benjamin Franklin
Training is the foundation of all the specialized behavioral health programs in the Harris County Sheriff's Office. The largest training initiative in the agency's history was implemented in June 2017 mandating that all new certified and detention personnel receive 40 hours of behavioral health training in their academies. Additional mandates included eight hours of annual refresher training for all CIT-trained certified personnel and behavioral health training for dispatchers and call takers. Our behavioral health training also includes the Police Executive Research Forum's (PERF) Integrating Communications, Assessments, & Tactics (ICAT) training along with Georgetown Law's Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) training.
If you would like more information on our training or if your agency is interested in having their personnel trained, please contact us.
Sergeant Jose Gomez
Personnel from the Harris County Sheriff's Office, Houston Police Department, and The Harris Center for Mental Health and Intellectual and Developmental Disability assigned to the Crisis Intervention Response Team (CIRT) co-responder program. (Photo taken in 2018)
The CORE telehealth program received an Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties (NACO)
The CORE telehealth program received an Excellence Award for Innovation at Work from the National Council
The Jail Mental Health Infirmary was named Program of the Year for 2013 by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care
Assistant Chief Mike Lee
Assistant Chief Lee is a recognized national leader regarding law enforcement training and programs for responding to individuals with mental illness. He started working on this issue in 1998 as a sergeant in the Houston Police Department (HPD) where he started HPD's Mental Health Unit. As a lieutenant, he was the person responsible for implementing HPD's first Mental Health Division. Chief Lee developed and implemented many of HPD's Law Enforcement Mental Health programs. He is the author of several technical reports regarding law enforcement response to individuals with mental illness and has presented widely on the topic. He honorably retired from HPD as a captain in November 2016.
Chief Lee developed the first Mental Health and Jail Diversion Bureau in the Harris County Sheriff's Office as a major in January 2017. He is currently over the Law Enforcement Command which includes Special Projects.
Project Manager Frank Webb
Frank honorably retired from the Houston Police Department (HPD) as a senior police officer in March 2017. He served in the HPD for 36 years. Frank is the person most responsible for developing and implementing HPD's Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Program and coordinated that program for five years.
He was selected by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement as Discipline Chair of a statewide committee that developed a 24-hour mental health class for the Texas Basic Peace Officer Curriculum in 2005. He was also selected by the Bill Blackwood Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas at Sam Houston State University to teach all Texas police chiefs a state-mandated 16-hour CIT class.
Frank has authored several articles on the topic of law enforcement response to individuals with mental illness and has presented widely on the topic.
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