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July 8th, 2010:

The Chronic Consumer Stabilization Initiative

In the comments to my previous post about mental illness and the criminal justice system, reader Katherine reminded me of this Houston Press article from last December, about a pilot program between HPD and the Mental Health Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County. Called the Chronic Consumer Stabilization Initiative, it was designed to work closely with the people who interact the most often with the police so as to come up with a treatment regimen for them that would minimize their contact with the police. (The story’s headline, which used the word “crazy” to describe these “chronic consumers”, was harshly criticized in the comments for being derogatory.) By all accounts, the pilot was a success. Here’s the executive summary from the final report, given in February:

The Chronic Consumer Stabilization Initiative is a progressive strategy designed to engage individuals with serious mental illnesses who are in a perpetual state of crisis. These individuals utilize police services and other emergency services on a habitual basis resulting in excessive calls for service and needless law enforcement encounters. The main objective of this pilot program was to reduce and minimize overall police contacts through intensive case management. The long term benefits of this program for the police department would be redirected resources which can be more appropriately utilized by patrol officers. In terms that are meaningful to executive management, this translates to potential savings in operational costs associated with manpower, redirected patrol services to address other criminal activities or calls for service, and possibly reducing the probability of officers being involved in a situation where deadly force may be used.

To identify the variables of this program we researched six months of the top 30 most documented cases and totaled 553 reported events which were identified as calls for service, offense reports, and emergency detention orders (EDO) filed by Houston Police Officers. We then compared the end results of the case managers’ efforts after six months of intensive case management. After intervention there were a total of 169 events which included 65 offense reports, 39 EDOs, and 65 calls for service. Due to the complexity of most CIT calls, it is estimated that it takes an average of one hour for an officer to complete each event. Additionally, department policy requires that two officers respond to every CIT call. Assuming that department policies were followed, this would mean approximately 1106 (553 events doubled) man hours were spent on addressing the needs of these 30 individuals. After the CCSI intervention of the same 30 consumers, 338 manpower hours were spent (169 events doubled). As a result, man power hours were reduced because of intensive case management objectives.

With a proposed expansion of up to four case managers and a full time police officer handling 60 clients, the projected savings in reduced manpower hours would be approximately 3,072 hours during a 12 month period, and 15,360 hours over a five year period. Hence, these potential savings in man power hours would be better utilized within patrol operations.

Actual cost savings, projected to be over $500,000 in the course of a year, are given in this addendum. Defense attorney George Parnham, who was part of the original task force on mental health that was formed in 2008 and which led to this pilot, wrote an op-ed about it in March. This is exactly the sort of thing I had in mind when I wrote that earlier post, and I’m delighted to see that HPD is a national leader in this.

One more thing: The funding for the CCSI pilot came from the city of Houston. Normally, as the Press article noted, the state provides funding for mental health programs. There was a sort-of predecessor to the CCSI called the Assertive Community Treatment Team, which had nothing to do with the police department and was run by the Department of State Health Services. I note that as a way to introduce this:

More than 20,000 Texans who receive state-funded psychiatric care would lose or get fewer services under budget cuts proposed this week by the Department of State Health Services.

The state’s 39 publicly-funded community mental health centers, which provide low cost psychiatric care for poor or uninsured people, would lose $80 million. State hospitals, including Austin State Hospital, would lose $44 million. Psychiatric crisis services would lose $10 million.

[…]

The mental health budget reductions are among $245 million in proposed cuts put forward by the Department of State Health Services. Cuts to mental health services total $134 million of that.

Even though the earlier ACT incarnation of this program wasn’t nearly as successful, this is exactly the kind of short-sighted budget cut that will wind up costing a lot more than it saves. Of course, it’ll be city and county governments that pay the bulk of those costs. The good news is that as I understand it, funding for the CCSI is in the city’s budget for this fiscal year. So at least we’ll be doing something constructive about this problem.

Mayor Parker on the proposed Heights Wal-Mart

Hair Balls has an update.

Walmart spokesman William Wertz told Hair Balls that Walmart is considering the expansion at this time but no plans have been approved.

“We can confirm that we are looking at this site, but discussions are preliminary, and we aren’t ready to say any more at this time,” Wetz said.

Mayor Annise Parker is also emphasizing that plans are tentative, in a statement to Hair Balls:

This is not yet a done deal. The property has been assembled for a major retail venture. When that moves forward, there will be careful review for impact on traffic, mobility and city infrastructure. I encourage Wal-Mart, or any other retailer interested in the property, to open dialogue with the Greater Heights and Washington Avenue Super Neighborhoods 15 and 22 as well as other neighborhood groups and civic clubs in that area.

You can count me as being interested to hear what the Super Neighborhoods have to say. The rest of the story has a bunch of dueling quotes about the merits of Wal-Mart and the character of the area. I’ve got to say, I dislike Wal-Mart as much as the next urban elitist, but even I find some of the concern about its construction at that location to be overblown. The site in question is basically a brownfield. It’s not like they’re looking to build on 19th Street. I’m not particularly worried about the effect a Wal-Mart there might have on Heights boutiques, I’m worried about the effect it may have on traffic in the area. I still don’t think Yale can handle the demands of having a Wal-Mart right there. It’s possible that impact can be mitigated, but I’d need to see the details, which would include that “traffic, mobility and city infrastructure” review the Mayor mentions.

Honestly, I’m not sure why this is being called a “Heights Wal-Mart”, even as I use that terminology myself in the title of this post. Technically, the Heights extends as far south as Washington, but let’s get real – nobody thinks of Yale at Center as being “the Heights”. With all due respect, it’s not “the Heights” that will be directly affected by a Wal-Mart there, it’s the Washington corridor. Has anyone asked the people who live in those apartments on Washington and Center just west of Yale, in whose back yard this thing would be, what they think?

Meria Carstarphen

Last week, the Chron had a profile of HISD Superintendent Terry Grier that looked at what he had accomplished and what people thought of him after 10 months on the job. This week, the Statesman has a profile of Austin’s Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, who is finishing up her first year on the job there, and I thought it would be interesting to compare.

In what could be considered one of the most dramatic years in recent district history, Carstarphen has made tough, and at times controversial, decisions. After the state announced it would close a second Austin school, Pearce Middle School, Carstarphen successfully presented a plan to reorganize and reopen the campus. She closed a $15 million 2009-10 budget shortfall. But a year after arriving to hear that the district had fallen short of federal standards for the first time, early results this year indicate Austin likely could fall short again.

Critics say that in dealing with emergencies, Carstarphen is too sensitive to questions, has occasionally moved too fast for the board and has yet to focus on areas of the district that are working well but deserve attention. Her supporters say she has been brave in her leadership and sensitive to the needs of district workers and students.

“She was dealt a pretty tough opening hand,” said Louis Malfaro, president of Education Austin, which represents about 4,000 of the district’s teachers and other employees. “She handled it pretty well, walking into the blast furnace. There was no lying by the pool. There was heat from the beginning.”

The main highlights are that Carstarphen appears to have better people skills than Grier – at the very least, there were no local politicians swearing opposition to her quoted in the story – and appears to have a better relationship with the local teachers union. I don’t know enough about Austin’s situation to know if either of these things are unusual for them, or if there’s some aspect to Carstarphen’s story that this article did not explore. I’m just presenting this here so you can see for yourself.

Texas blog roundup for the week of July 5

The Texas Progressive Alliance wishes America a Happy 234th Birthday as it brings you this week’s blog roundup.

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