Harris County Police Test A New Mental Health Strategy: Telepsychiatry

Officers in the field often face tricky encounters with people who need mental health support.

By Rhonda FanningDecember 21, 2017 1:52 pm

Police aren’t typically trained to make mental health determinations, but what if there were a way to have a mental health professional on call?

Harris County is trying out an effort that may the the first of its kind in the nation – police using telepsychiatry in the field.

Frank Webb, the project manager with the Harris County Sheriff Department’s Bureau of Mental Health and Jail Diversion, is working to implement this program.

“Unfortunately, law enforcement is increasingly responding to people in serious mental health  crises, and one of the problems is that the hospital emergency rooms where a lot of these individuals are taken are being inundated,” Webb says.

Now Harris County officers will have another option.

“We have the ability through an iPad to get real time direct access to a psychiatrist, which is actually pretty amazing,” Webb says.

He says the pilot program has already seen positive results.

“The pilot started Tuesday and one of our sargeants emailed me a picture last night of a girl, I don’t know how old she was,” he says, “but she’s standing there in her house and they’ve got the iPad on a stand and the girl is actually talking to the psychiatrist via the iPad.”

Written by Jen Rice.