PAPD’s Mental Health Unit getting lift as spike in demand increases

Published 12:25 am Friday, October 1, 2021

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Mental health officers with Port Arthur Police Department will have a new vehicle to aid in their tasks.

The purchase of the vehicle, a 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe, was approved by Port Arthur City Council earlier this week.

The agreement between the city and the Spindletop Center makes it possible for the city to be reimbursed for the cost of the unmarked patrol unit.

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The Spindletop Center was awarded $52,505 in its 2021 fiscal year budget to use in the purchase of the new police vehicle and standard vehicle equipment for the mental health officer, according to information from the city.

The vehicle will be purchased from Lake Country Chevrolet through Goodbuy Cooperative Purchasing in the amount of $40,980.70.

Police Chief Tim Duriso explained the need for the vehicle is because the mental health officers perform home visits.

“They (mental health officers) go out and visit patients, make sure they’re taking their medication, make sure they’re going to their doctor’s appointments,” Duriso said.

The vehicle will also be used by the trained officer when a person is in crisis.

The partnership between the two entities is in its second year.

Duriso said the department has nine officers who are certified mental health officers.

Crisis Prevention Specialist Tommy Smith, who works with Spindletop, said there’s been a spike in calls for this type of help during the pandemic.

“There has been an increase in mental health crises, and significantly in the youth,” Smith said. “There has also been an increase in people trying to get on the state hospital list for mental health services.”

Smith said Port Arthur Police are members of the ASAP, or Assistance, Stabilization and Prevention team.

“They send an officer to work with us,” he said “It’s a coordinated effort to identify, engage, and help people who are having mental health issues in the community.”

The objective of PAPD’s Mental Health Unit, according to the city’s website, is to bridge the gap between law enforcement and those suffering from mental illness.