In April and May Austin Police SWAT teams were called out at least four times. Officers on scene said two of those cases were mental health-related.
"Whenever our officers arrived they made contact with a 911 caller who stated that a person was inside the residence and appeared to be suicidal," said APD Cpl. Marcos Johnson in a press briefing following a May 8 SWAT call.
Weeks earlier on April 13, APD SWAT also responded to a hotel on 183 in North Austin. "The officers determined the subject was having some sort of mental episode not making much sense," said APD Officer Bino Cadenas.
In both cases police believed the individual was armed, but only found a weapon in one case. Both calls also ended peacefully, according to officers.
In the push to spend city dollars on non-police programs, supporters are looking toward solutions like CAHOOTS. Founded in Eugene, Oregon 30 years ago, CAHOOTS stands for Crisis Assistance Helping Out On the Streets. Two-person teams of medics and mental health professionals respond to crisis situations—like de-escalations, intoxications and suicide interventions.
"When you talk about the difference between a CAHOOTS behavioral health first responder and a law enforcement officer... we're looking at a group of folks that are engaged in direct, meaningful, prolonged training," Tim Black, CAHOOTS operations coordinator, told CBS Austin sister station KVAL this week.
According to CAHOOTS, their first responders have 500 hours of mental health training. In 2020 the Austin Police Department increased their mental health training requirement to 80 hours. With a sliver of the city's budget CAHOOTS responds to 20 percent of the public safety calls.
"We don't think CAHOOTS is a cookie cutter program that you can just pickup from Eugene and plop into a big city like Houston and expect it to work the same," says Black.
"We probably ask our police to do way too much," says Austin Mayor Steve Adler.
Adler says the city is behind on mental health care and shouldn't rely on police to bridge the gap.
"Clearly we're not doing enough and we're not doing it quickly enough," says Adler.
Later this summer city council will look at a new city budget that aims to reallocate police funds to other services. Adler and other council members have expressed the need for mental health to get a bigger investment.