PORTLAND, Texas — Officers are beginning to respond to more incidents involving a mental health crisis, according to the City of Portland Police Department.
Officials said since the beginning of 2023, at least 25 calls were specifically identified and related to mental health concerns. Officers are finding a common demographic among their responses, identifying some individuals as homeless or veterans.
The police department has been making extra efforts to handle cases related to mental health. They have specially trained officers, like Steven Macias, who know how to deescalate situations and help people experiencing a crisis.
Macias has been on the force for about 10 years. This year, he received training to respond for mental health calls.
"Rather than giving them lawful orders to, you know, place their hands behind their back, it can be a casual conversation," he explained.
Macias is also able to use other techniques and special tools if deemed necessary. He showed KRIS 6 News a non-lethal 40 millimeter launcher.
"If we have a subject who is armed with some kind of weapon and is hostile then we have to move forward in action. We use a sponge round which causes discomfort and eliminates the need for lethal weapons," Macias said.
Portland PD Chief of Police Mark Cory believes getting people the help and resources they need is a priority. He is hoping to focus on efforts for veterans.
Cory is also a veteran who served in the army, and said he understands challenges associated with a veteran's mental health.
"I hold veterans very close to my heart. And the experiences that our veterans have gone through, especially in the last 20 years, it's hard on them," he said. "Then they have to transition back into civilian life and it's difficult. It's difficult for all of us who have done that."
Cory said he doesn't want to see the country's heroes in distress, but if they are, help is on the way.
The police chief described a recent incident his officer responded to.
A female veteran was experiencing a mental health crisis and said she was armed and fired a round. Despite the circumstances, Cory said eventually, officers were able to get the woman the care and resources she needed.
"Our officer handled it great. We were able to deescalate it. She listened to us. She put the firearms down and we were able to help her," Cory added."I actually stayed in touch with her after that and she's done great since then."
To further fulfill their mission of helping veterans, the Portland Police Department is offering assistance with registry for the CAMO Alert. It's a service from the Texas Department of Public Safety, and similarly works like the Amber Alert.
CAMO Alerts are issued for current and former military members who have gone missing and believed to be in crisis due to an altered mental status.
To register, or for help completing required forms, those needing help can contact Officer Macias by calling (361) 777-4444 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “CAMO Alert.”
For the Suicide prevention hotline, dial 988, and for emergencies, dial 911.
CAMO Alert Safety and Privacy
According to the Portland Police Department, subject matter, experts and stakeholders echoed several times during initial stakeholder meetings that maintaining safety and privacy were important in program implementation.
- To ensure safety, CAMO Alerts will be activated once criteria are verified by local law enforcement.
- To ensure privacy, CAMO Alerts will only be activated when the missing current or former service member has registered for the program.
CAMO Alert Criteria
- Verification from the Texas Department of Public Safety that the missing military member is registered for the CAMO Alert program.
- Individual is a current or former member of the US armed forces, including the National Guard or a reserve or auxiliary unit of any branch of the armed forces and the individual's location is unknown.
- Confirmation the missing person suffers from a mental illness, including post-traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury.
- Confirmation the disappearance poses a credible threat to the military member's health and safety or the health and safety.
Additional efforts and resources for Veterans
The Portland Police Department told KRIS 6 News of a new partnership they are forming with the San Patricio County Veteran Service Office. This partnership was established on April 12, following the police department's social media post regarding assistance with the CAMO Alert. The two agencies hope to assist more men and women who have served the country by connecting them with resources for VA Benefits for veterans, their spouse, and families. They also hope to provide resources for housing and mental health crisis services.