Brown County Sheriff’s deputy Greg Parrott is a 30-year law enforcement veteran who’s held numerous assignments including criminal investigator, SWAT team commander and police academy instructor.
Parrott has a new assignment. As of early April, he is one of two deputies assigned as a mental health deputy, working with Center for Life Resources staff to respond to incidents involving people with mental health issues.
Sheriff Vance Hill named Parrott and deputy Byron Langley to the jobs after a two-year state grant provided funding for two mental health deputies, and Parrott and Langley applied for the assignments. Hill was the person who applied for the grant.
The intent is to provide mental health services for those individuals rather than immediately taking them to jail on criminal charges, Hill said. But it’s not a free pass: while in some cases criminal charges may not be filed at all, in other cases they may be filed after the person has received treatment, Hill said.
The two deputies are also available for other law enforcement agencies, and they have responded to calls involving the Brownwood and Early police departments.
The presence of Parrot or Langley at a mental health call means they can take over from a street deputy or officer who might get there first. Those calls are apt to be time-consuming, and the other deputies or officers can resume patrol duties while Parrott or Langley remain, Hill said.
‘A huge success’
Parrott previously worked at other agencies including the Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office, the Texas Attorney General’s Office and the Crosbyton, Lamesa and Bangs police departments. Parrott left the Bangs Police Department in April to join the sheriff’s office.
“This was an exciting opportunity to be part of a new program,” Parrott said.
The program has exceeded its projected numbers, and in June, Parrott and Langley dealt with 77 individuals in mental health situations, Hill said.
“We’re exceeding the projected numbers we submitted requesting the grant,” Hill said. “So far it has been a huge success. During our little bit of down time, the deputies are actually ensuring that the patients are taking their medication.
“There have been numerous instances where, prior to having these two deputy positions, there’s no doubt that the individuals would have come to the county jail, because we didn’t have the manpower to deal with them individually or any way to counsel with them or work with them. And now these deputies are responding to the scene — whether it’s for a city police department or (the sheriff’s office) — and we’re actually able to work with the Center for Life Resources and divert these people from the county jail to (receive) services.”
Hill stressed that while charges might not be filed in some instances when mental health issues are involved, that’s not always the case.
A few weeks ago a deputy was assaulted by a person who was “in a crisis, not taking their meds,” Hill said. The person received mental health services rather than immediate jail time. “But there will be charges eventually filed,” Hill said. “It’s by no means a get out of fail free card.”
Parrott and Langley have offices at Center for Life Resources facilities, and there are different ways they can become involved at a scene, Parrott said.
It may originate with a call that comes directly into the Center for Life, and a caseworker “grabs us and says ‘hey, we’ve got this (situation), let’s go,’” Parrott said. “It could be an individual officer calling us on his cell phone. Early (Police Department) will pick up the phone and say ‘hey, I’ve got this (situation). And I, in turn, grab a crisis worker and we go.
“The hospital calls us and says we’ve got a person who is unruly, obviously in mental crisis, and ‘we need someone right now.’ We’ll respond to that type of thing. Dispatch can call us.”
The mental health deputies will typically accompany a Center for Life crisis worker “throughout the entire process in some form or fashion,” Parrott said. Maybe the crisis worker is on the phone trying to find a placement, and they have us doing other little things — trying to gather information about this person, seeking out family members, seeking out medications, just any type of additional history that traditionally, the officer on the scene doesn’t have time to do.
“I think we’re a very unique team. We’ve formed those relationships, Now it’s the point of, ‘OK, you’re going to do that, I know what I need to be doing to help you.’”
‘We’re trying to help you’
The deputies’ presence has made a large impact, two Center for Life Resources staff members said. The staff members are Dion White, executive director of the agency, and Joey Smith, licensed professional counselor and chief of behavioral health services.
White said the two-year, $223,389 grant from the Texas Health and Human Services that is funding the deputies and is part of $10 million the Texas Legislature put in House Bill 13.
“A lot of times, when folks are not in trouble but a danger to themselves or others, sometimes they see law enforcement and they get really afraid,” White said. “This is a proactive approach because now we have our mental health deputies who are with us before it becomes that. It helps people see them not only when they’re in trouble, but to truly see them (as) ‘we’re trying to help you. We don’t want you to go to the state hospital.’ Our goal is to alleviate that crisis.”
In the program’s three months of existence, White said, it’s created an impact.
There have been fewer admissions to state hospitals because “we have a quicker, more community focused response to that crisis,” White said. “It’s more holistic. It encompasses not just that individual but those around them, to wrap services around that person and to help supports to prevent future situations from coming up.
“We’re very fortunate for a center our size, a community our size, to have this program. Before the program, individuals didn’t receive as much support and attention in the crisis because of resource limitation. This program (gives) us the ability to provide more intensive services because we’re going to have more opportunity to provide more in-depth care at that time of crisis.”
White said the deputies are present to protect the individual in a crisis as much as to protect the crisis workers. The person in crisis “is not thinking straight,” White said. “They have a situation going on where they may be acting irrationally, so the mental health deputies are thee to help protect them as much as they are there to help protect us.”
Smith said the mental health deputies create a more complete team. “I’ve seen it really help with the actively psychotic individuals, and (the deputies) were able to help make everybody feel safe,” Smith said.
“I think it’s their training — their expertise in law enforcement and then the training from our agency. These guys are experienced officers. So their ability to bridge between what we and what they do — it’s just negotiation, really. We help de-escalate the situation, and they just add the exclamation point at the end.”
Smith said the mental health deputies spend as much time as they need to with a person in crisis “to de-escalate the situation so it doesn’t end in violence.
“It really is a team effort, and that is awesome. These guys genuinely listen, and you can tell that they’ve got the dual training. I’m impressed when I sit and listen to them talk with the people that they’re working with. It’s like, ‘man, you get it.’”
Smith said the two deputies’ specialized training included a month-long training at the Center for Life Resources and suicide awareness training. “We did not anticipate having this much need so fast,” Smith said. “It’s been fantastic, and I love having them.”
‘No blanket solution’
Each interaction in a mental health crisis is different, Parrott said. “I can’t sit here and give you a template because every person, every situation, is different,” Parrott said. “We have generalized parameters that we try to stay within in, but every need is unique. What would be a crisis to them would not be a crisis to you or I.”
Hill agreed, saying “there’s no blanket solution to these calls. They’re just all handled individually. What works on one might not work with the others. We have to be very flexible in dealing with these people.”
Hill said he will apply to have the grant renewed after two years, and he hopes to be awarded state funds for additional mental health deputies.
Parrott said he has compassion for the individuals he deals with. “Absolutely,” Parrott said. “You couldn’t do this job. You couldn’t wear this uniform or any other law enforcement uniform if you didn’t have compassion for the people you’re serving.”
Traditionally in law enforcement, Parrott said, “we get there, there’s a problem, we take care of the problem. And the problem has traditionally been solved by taking the person to jail.”
Brownwood, Early police chiefs see big value in mental health deputies
Early Police Chief David Mercer recalled a recent incident involving a man with a gun who was hallucinating.
Officers feared the man might try to start shooting people who only existed n his hallucinations. Officers were able to convince the man to put down his gun and come outside to the officers.
Then the two deputies who were recently assigned to work as mental health deputies — Greg Parrott and Byron Langley — arrived.
“After everything was secured they took it over and visited with him, got orders and had him taken to a mental health facility, where they straightened out his medication and got him back to being healthy,” Mercer recalled.
The deputies’ presence freed Early officers to leave the scene and respond to other priority calls that had come in, Mercer said.
“I’m very supportive of it,” Mercer said of the mental health deputy program. “They’ve helped us on several calls. They’ve come out and it’s relieved the officer from being tied up where they could go answer other calls. They stay with the individual and interview them, whatever needs to be done, whether it be go to the emergency room or get a mental health warrant, whatever.
“It’s a very very useful thing. I know it’s freed up patrol officers on many occasions already to go answer other calls. I think you’ll see people with mental health issues starting to recover better, maybe quicker, from incidents.
“There’s been times when people might have been taken (to jail) just to keep them safe. There was a charge, a legal charge. Sometimes jail is not the place they need to be. They need to be in a hospital where they can get their medication going good.”
Mercer added that he thinks Parrott and Langley are doing “an excellent job. It’s a definite asset to the community, having them working on this.”
Brownwood Police Chief Terry Nichols agreed, describing the program as a “great resource. It’s something we’ve desperately needed for a long time, because what it allows us to do … normally we have four or five officers on the street, and one or two of them get tied up on something like this, and now we have a resource that we can call.
“If we’re there first we can call them in to come relieve us. This is what they do for a living. They’re well trained, they coordinate and it allows us to put our officers back on the street. I see us as one big team, meaning it’s a countywide asset. By and large it’s been very successful.”
Nichols said it’s the first step in a long process, and he hopes to eventually have a Brownwood officer dedicated to the team.
“Eventually, big picture, we want to be part of this as well,” Nichols said.