Data from the last few years showing a rise in mental-health calls the Georgetown Police Department responds to “only scratches the surface” of issues officers and the community are facing, police Chief Cory Tchida said.

GPD has experienced a spike in calls related to mental health incidents, jumping from 314 calls in 2019 to 654 in 2022. In the first four months of 2023, GPD had already received 355 calls to respond to someone in a mental health crisis.

However, not all calls are recognized as mental health related until after an officer arrives at a scene, which Tchida said indicates the number of such incidents could be higher.

His response has been to implement more officer training in an effort to fill a gap in services.

“We have been fundamentally failing the mentally ill since the 1970s,” Tchida said. “Unfortunately, American law enforcement and the criminal justice system has been on the front lines ever since. It’s not something we asked for, and it’s not something we think we’re best suited for, but right now, we’re it.”

In summer 2021, GPD pledged to the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s One Mind Campaign, which requires 100% of the department’s officers to take a mental health first aid class. It also requires at least 20% of the force be trained in crisis intervention. Currently, 53% of GDP has received the training.

Tchida said the department has formed strong partnerships with Bluebonnet Trails Community Services, Rock Springs and Georgetown Behavioral Health Institute to assist individuals. He also plans to make a budget request this year for a four-officer unit to deal solely with mental health calls.

“What it’s about is increasing our bandwidth to provide a continuity of services after the initial crisis—to work with that person, staying engaged in these people’s lives and their families’ lives to try to help have better mental health outcomes,” Tchida said.