Every day law enforcement officers come in contact with people who have mental health issues.

The situation is not always easy or pleasant for either the person or the officer.

In many cases, and through no fault of their own, officers lack advanced training in dealing with the mentally ill.

This is true in Victoria and throughout the state.

More training is needed to help officers deal with the mentally ill. Support of such training must start on the local level and move up through the state and federal levels.

In the long run, such a move would save money and result in much better outcomes, diverting mental health patients from jails and emergency rooms.

They do have training, but not enough to always keep a situation from escalating out of control.

Police officer cadets are required to receive 16 hours of mental health training while in the Victoria College police academy.

Officers can later take a 40-hour course to become certified as a mental health officer, but only 8 percent do.

Thirty-one, or 7 percent, of officers in the Crossroads are certified as mental health officers. They do not have to do anything to renew that certification, according to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.

It can't be said often enough, that more training is needed to help officers deal with the mentally ill.

An officer trained to talk to a patient having a mental health episode to find out his problems and help him to calmly get help is so much more beneficial than the patient being jailed instead of taken to a mental health care provider. This only slows down the patient getting the help he needs and adds to the overcrowding of the jail.

The effort to get more officers trained should start on the local level, but needs support from the state as well as federal programs.

An example of this effort making a difference is the San Antonio Police Department's six-member mental health unit. Since it started in 2008, it has helped save $4.8 million by diverting the mentally ill from emergency rooms and the Bexar County Jail to the city's mental health services center.

A similar project would be useful in the Crossroads, allowing law enforcement and mental health providers to work together to help the mentally ill and the community.

As our legislators begin preparing to head to Austin in January for the next legislative session, it is crucial for them to see the importance of making advanced training more available to a wider range of agencies and officers. At the same time, they need to provide funding to help pay for this training so all departments, no matter the size, can have the equal opportunity to train their officers.

To help the legislators understand the urgency of this need, city and county officials, law enforcement, health care providers, patients as well as everyday people need to show their support for the needed training.

The need is there. It is exhibited every time a mental health issue call gets out of hand and the patient needlessly ends up in jail.

If legislators put faces of the mentally ill to the need, they will come to the only conclusion possible - to require more mental health intervention training and fund more training for officers to become mental health officers.

If we want to continue to make the Crossroads a better place to live for all, then we all need to work together to support getting help for those who cannot help themselves.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.

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