Crisis-Intervention Training a Must
for All Incoming Houston Officers
By Ruth Rendon, Houston Chronicle
When Houston police officer Therman Canton was called to a
southwest Houston home where a man was threatening
suicide, he knew he had to remain calm.
A distraught man was on the roof of his two-story house with
a rope tied around his neck. The man, who had a drug
problem, refused to come down, so Canton, a crisis
intervention-trained officer, went to him. Canton climbed to
the roof — keeping a safe distance — and after 30 minutes of
talking to the man persuaded him to not kill himself and to
seek professional help.
That outcome is the goal of a new crisis-intervention training
requirement for all incoming police officers. Starting today, all
Texas police academies must offer 24 hours of classes in crisis
intervention and training about the mental health code.
Before, those seeking peace-officer certification were required
to take eight hours of training in dealing with the mentally ill
and none in crisis intervention.
Some police departments, such as Houston, already require
crisis-intervention training for academy cadets.
"What we're trying to do is help the officers be more alert. Our
officers have traditionally been taught to take an authoritative
stand and take control of the situation. We're trying to give
them some verbal tools for getting control of the situation,"
said Virginia Ross, administrator for curriculum, training and
special programs section with the Texas Commission on Law
Enforcement Officer Standards and Education, which oversees
"There is a part of the population that, when there is a crisis or
when they are emotional, they respond differently than your
typical criminal," she said. "We're just trying to give the
officers more tools to use and more strategy to think about
when they are in different situations."
A move is afoot to require all veteran police officers to receive
some crisis-intervention training as well. The new course work for rookie officers is based on classes created by police Officer Frank Webb, who heads the Houston
department's crisis -intervention team.
Webb's philosophy is that mentally ill people should be dealt
with patiently, and officers should calmly listen and
communicate. The goal of the Houston classes is to educate
prospective officers and veterans on what mental illness is so
that they can understand how to better handle a situation when
dealing with a person with mental illness.
Webb credits Patsy Gillham of Cypress for bringing attention
to the need for police crisis-intervention training.
Gillham's distraught 38 -year-old nephew was shot by three La
Porte police officers in 2001 after he charged them with a
Since her nephew's death, Gillham has attended the law
enforcement commission meetings across the state urging the
crisis-intervention training. Her next goal is to get all veteran
officers the same training as the rookies. The crisis-intervention
training, she said, "is an alternative to shooting
people. We need to make it safe for the public."
The key to dealing with crises and mentally ill persons is to
understand the different illnesses and the side effects from
medications, said Webb. Cadets also are taught about the
Texas Health and Safety Code, which gives officers the
authority to have someone who's mentally ill committed.
The Houston academy training also includes a presentation
from a mentally ill person.
Ross said the changes to the police academy's curriculum was
not a directive from the state Legislature. "We just saw the
need for this early on. We decided to go ahead and do it," she
said. "We're trying to give them (officers) a bigger tool box."
The additional training is welcome news to the Hogg
Foundation on Mental Health.
"Any training that will give police officers an opportunity to
de-escalate the situation and handle it in a safe and appropriate
manner is a benefit not only to a potential offender but to the
police officer," said Jeff Patterson, a spokesman for the Hogg
The Hogg Foundation, an administrative unit of the University
of Texas at Austin that was established by the children of
former Texas Gov. James Stephen Hogg, leads an effort to
have all Texas police officers trained in crisis intervention.
The foundation, along with Gov. Rick Perry's office, is
meeting this month with law enforcement groups and state
lawmakers to discuss ways that veteran officers can receive