Burnet County’s crisis intervention officers saving money, and potentially, lives

Burnet County Sheriff Calvin Boyd (left) stands with Deputy Mike Sorenson, who was awarded Officer of the Year in the department earlier this year by the Hill Country 100 Club. Sorenson is one of two Burnet County Crisis Intervention Team officers who, in the past year, saved the county $55,000 by working with people in mental health crises to divert them out of the criminal justice system and into getting needed help. Photo courtesy Burnet County Sheriff’s Office

Burnet County Sheriff Calvin Boyd (left) stands with Deputy Mike Sorenson, who was awarded Officer of the Year in the department earlier this year by the Hill Country 100 Club. Sorenson is one of two Burnet County Crisis Intervention Team officers who, in the past year, saved the county $55,000 by working with people in mental health crises to divert them out of the criminal justice system and into getting needed help. Photo courtesy Burnet County Sheriff’s Office

STAFF WRITER JARED FIELDS

Two Burnet County crisis intervention officers saved the county about $55,000 in a year with jail diversions for people in mental health crises, thanks to a partnership with Bluebonnet Trails Community Services.

“In the past, these folks just went to jail, or went to the (emergency room), and once they’d go to the ER then the hospital has certain things they have to do,” said Burnet County Sheriff Calvin Boyd.

An officer then would have to stay with that person until a crisis worker and justice of the peace were called — sometimes in the middle of the night — to draft a warrant so the person could be transported to an inpatient facility for treatment. That process could take hours.

The county’s Crisis Intervention Team of Mike Sorenson and Scott Orrison have helped cut down the lengthy process so people in crisis get the help they need and officers can return to the field more quickly.

All BCSO deputies are mental health certified, and the CIT’s goal is for all officers in all departments in the county to be certified, too.

“Mike (Sorenson) has been a big part of that. He knows more than most,” Boyd said. “We’re very lucky to have him. He’s done most of the training.”

Sorenson has more than 38 years of law enforcement experience. He started the CIT program in Williamson County, where he previously was employed, in 2005 and did the same in Travis County in 1984.

Sorenson joined BCSO a little more than a year ago. Orrison, the department’s other CIT officer, joined the department about six months ago.

The Bluebonnet Trails mission is to provide services to adults and youths with serious mental illness and emotional disorders as well as people with developmental disabilities.

“The first thing we want is an educated system of care in Burnet County,” said Bluebonnet Trails Community Services Executive Director Andrea Richardson.

The Crisis Intervention Team started with funding from Bluebonnet Trails in 2012, mainly as an agreement to provide transportation.

That agreement was renewed at the Burnet County Commissioner’s Court meeting April 19. Bluebonnet Trails funds eight crisis intervention officers in its eight-county coverage area of Bastrop, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Gonzales, Guadalupe, Lee, and Williamson counties.

Part of the CIT work involves followups with individuals, such as making sure someone takes their medication.

“This person doesn’t get in crisis, and we don’t have to deal with them (in the criminal justice system,)” Boyd said.

For Sorenson, driving someone an hour for a shot and an hour back home could save a month’s worth of time for law enforcement.

“They’re not on the radar,” Sorenson said. “Two hours of my day helps everybody a whole lot.”

This approach to mental health from law enforcement is a change for stereotypes and past behaviors, Sorenson and Boyd both said. And it’s showing in the response from the community.

“We take a different approach; we don’t just slap the cuffs on. We listen, talk, find out what’s going on,” Sorenson said. “That’s half our battle.”

The Crisis Intervention Team works mainly day shifts but can be contacted at any time by calling (512) 756-8080. Bluebonnet Trails Community Services’ Marble Falls location can be reached at (830) 798-2902.

jared@thepicayune.com

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