PHARR — The Pharr Police Chief Andrew Harvey is taking steps to move his department towards the future of community policing.
That was evident Thursday morning when the department put on a demonstration for media and other guests showcasing their new mental health task force, part of a weeklong mental health training session.
“The training for us this week is above and beyond what the state requires,” Harvey said. “We’re looking at mental illness from a deeper level— from a human level. We’re training how to better listen, communicate and how to really gauge to see what type of help is needed. We’re not medical personnel, but this gives officers a better understanding of what it might be like so they can have more compassion, and really empathy, but also give them the help that they need.”
Harvey said that mental health is a huge issue that police are faced with everyday throughout the country. He said that it’s important for police to change with the times, and his department is no exception.
“In order to be effective community policing, we need to go out and meet people where they are,” Harvey said. “We meet them where they are with their needs. No longer do we just show up and put them somewhere and wipe our hands. No, we do follow-ups, we make sure they’re getting the right treatment.”
“I do believe this, arrests are not the answer to crime, and it’s definitely not the answer to dealing with issues with mental illness and substance abuse.”
Thursday’s demonstration included a couple of role-playing displays led by Ernest Stevens, a San Antonio Police Officer who along with his partner Joe Smarro was recently featured on the HBO documentary “Ernie & Joe: Crisis Cops.” The documentary follows the two officers as they respond to mental health calls as part of SAPD’s Mental Health Unit and how the duo are attempting to change the way police respond to those calls.
“I was very excited when I got the phone call from Chief Harvey about bringing down the crisis intervention training down here to the Pharr Police Department,” Stevens said after the demonstration. “Crisis intervention training is such a huge part of the response that police officers are going to, out in the community.”
Stevens said that without the proper training, there is a greater chance that police officers will resort to excessive use of force, improper use of force and improper incarceration when responding to a mental health crisis.
“This training here today and throughout this week — the officers are learning a huge skill set,” Stevens said. “They’re learning how to deescalate a mental health crisis, their learning their active listening skills, their getting an overview of all the mental health diagnosis that they’re commonly going to see out in the community.”
Among those in attendance at the demonstration included Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez, Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez Jr., and Terry Crocker, Chief Executive Officer with Tropical Texas Behavioral Health, who has worked closely with the PD in order to help with the development of the mental health task force.
“The more trained our officers are, the more comfortable they are going into any situation dealing with the mentally ill,” Crocker said. “It’s important that they have the best skills that we can get them in order to deal with those situations. I’m excited about the commitment here in Pharr, and I hope it will continue to spread throughout the Valley.”
This week’s training saw 18 Pharr police officers participating in the sessions. Harvey said that he anticipates the training to become a recurring theme for his entire department. He hopes to have all 140 officers in his department undergo these training sessions in 2021.