How has the city handled mental health calls since the death of Melissa Perez?

SAN ANTONIO – Over the last year, Melissa Perez’s death has pushed people across San Antonio to question how the city handles mental health calls.

San Antonio police shot and killed Perez on June 23, 2023, while experiencing a mental health crisis. Over the last year, there have been citywide changes to increase the mental health resources available needed to respond to these crisis situations.

Some mental health advocates said the city’s efforts are still not enough.

“We’re way behind the curve,” Doug Beach, the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Greater San Antonio, said. “We need to do a lot more.”

SAPD said its mental health unit was not called out to the scene at the time of the shooting. Beach said that caused concern to the community.

“People would call us and say, ‘I’m not calling the police department. If my family member needs help, I’m afraid to call the police,’” Beach said. “Mental health needs to be part of a lot of conversations.”

Beach said city leaders, police and community members should all prioritize mental health.

“People would not put up with this kind of response if it was a heart attack or a physical issue,” Beach said. “But if it’s a mental health issue, we don’t get the same level of health care response.”

Over the last year, the city has made moves to increase its mental health resources. The SAPD Mental Health Unit and the city’s SA CORE Program are tasked to help with mental health emergencies.

SA CORE stands for San Antonio Community Outreach and Resiliency Effort. The CORE unit sends a mental health-trained officer, paramedic and a licensed mental health clinician to a scene. A public information officer with SAPD said in a statement that the program recently added 24-hour capabilities as well as five clinicians, nine paramedics and 12 police officers to the team.

“San Antonio is doing a good job as far as building their multidisciplinary teams, where I think they could even improve upon that is looking at a community responder program,” Ernest Stevens, the deputy division director of the Council of State Governments Justice Center, said.

Stevens helped create the first mental health unit at SAPD years ago. He said the hardest part is decriminalizing mental health, but education can help.

SAPD said in its statement that cadets are provided with about 100 hours of training in crisis intervention, de-escalation and tactical disengagement.

“They’re moving in the right direction,” Beach said.

For resources to help with mental health, click here.

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