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Spending a little to save a lot

Remember HPD’s Chronic Consumer Stabilization Program, in which the police department attempted to deal with some of the people who interact with them the most often in a better, more humane, and more cost-effective way? Well, it’s been working.

Since the program began, run-ins between police and the top 30 chronic consumers have declined by 53 percent, as have the number of trips to the county psychiatric hospital, HPD officials said.

Based on that, City Council on Wednesday voted to double the program, expanding it to four case managers to keep tabs on 60 people.

The initiative was born of the 2007 fatal shootings of two people with mental illness by police in a three-month span. In one case, a woman entered the downtown police headquarters and lunged at an officer with a knife. In the second, a man wielding a pipe charged an officer on a street in southeast Houston. Police shot both people after Tasers failed to subdue them. Two years later, the police ran the numbers and MHMRA dispatched the case managers.

Wednesday’s unanimous vote to increase spending on the program to $256,000 this fiscal year was a formality after Councilman Ed Gonzalez, a former police officer, attached an amendment to this year’s budget to double the size of CCSI.

Gonzalez said the program protects people with mental illness, the officers dispatched for crisis encounters and the taxpayers’ wallets. He looked at the numbers police reported to Council and said, “There’s a lot of savings in those percentages” in avoided arrests, ambulance rides and psychiatric center commitments.

“That’s a much more effective and humane way of dealing with the problem,” Gonzalez said.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police recognized the program with its community policing award in 2010.

See this Grits post for further background, and this Malcolm Gladwell essay for more context. Projected savings in police, emergency room, and other resources was projected to be $500,000 for the first year of the pilot program, which has now been doubled in scope. It just makes sense to try to deal with the root cause of the problems rather than treat the symptoms over and over again. And it’s a beautiful thing to see it work and get expanded.

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  1. […] this is the same approach that Harris County is taking with its Chronic Consumer Stabilization Initiative, and it’s based on the idea espoused by […]