The Richardson Police Department will soon have a team of officers dedicated to addressing mental health issues in the community.

The department has seen a high volume of calls related to mental illness, Assistant Chief Gary Tittle told City Council at a Sept. 21 meeting. Last year, officers responded to 318 calls for service coded as mental health crises. Between January and June 30 of this year, the department responded to 152 calls, according to Tittle.

“That’s a large number,” he said.

The issue of mental health is a pervasive issue in the United States, Tittle said. It is estimated between 30%-40% of police interactions nationwide involve individuals who are mentally ill, he added.

“If you were to talk to the top officials in most municipal police departments and ask them to list their top five problems, I can assure you that mental health will be at the top or in that list of five,” he said.

Central to Richardson’s program is the integration of follow-up visits, Tittle said. After an interaction with police, members of the Crisis Intervention Team will partner with health care professionals at Methodist Richardson Medical Center to learn more about the individual. If another incident occurs, officers will have a better understanding of what they are dealing with, Tittle said.

“What makes them tick, quite frankly,” Tittle said of the information officers will seek to gain during follow-up visits. “What are the triggers in their lives?”

The hope is that follow-up visits will result in less interactions that end in an apprehension by a peace officer without a warrant. This occurs when an individual is taken into police custody because they are an imminent danger to themselves or others.

The team will include two sergeants, 13 patrol officers and three school resource officers as well as one registered nurse and one social worker from Methodist Richardson.

Council Member Ken Hutchenrider, who is also the president of the hospital, said he felt a great deal of pride when the department approached his staff with this proposal.

“The commitment, the thoughtfulness and the approach that is being taken is something we should all be incredibly proud of because these people need help,” he said.

Prior to assuming their positions, officers will undergo 40 hours of state training as well as training administered by Methodist Richardson, Tittle said.

“Community policing is what our police department is built around,” he said. “It’s the community that drives us, and I believe that the model of the [Crisis Intervention Team] is going to be instrumental in building on that community spirit.”