Ken Bennett is no stranger to the neighborhoods in the Hurst, Euless and Bedford area.
For the last eight years, he was the program manager for the MHMR Law Liaison program that helped area police departments with mentally ill residents.
Now, Bennett, 44, is the new mental health coordinator for the three Northeast Tarrant County suburban police departments.
“He was our main contact at MHMR Law Liaison,” said Hurst Police Chief Steve Moore. “He applied for our position and was able to hit the ground running. He also has all the Tarrant County contacts that have helped to make our program successful.”
The three police departments created the new position after they were awarded a state grant. The coordinator will work with patrol officers, jailers, families, hospital staffs, advocacy groups and court staffs.
The $80,000 grant coupled with $20,000 from the cities will help expand the law liaison project, which the cities have been involved with since 2008.
“Jail may not be the answer for someone with mental health issues,” Bennett said. “So we will try to get to these residents before they may need to be arrested. It’s more a preventive approach.”
Statistics in Hurst, Euless and Bedford show the number of crisis calls has increased since 2011 in all three cities. Crisis calls are those that ended with residents being sent to mental health services, with or without their consent, or taken to jail.
“The police department spends an ever-increasing amount of its time and resources dealing with the segment of our population who suffers from mental health issues” said Euless Police Chief Mike Brown. “We continue to see a rise in the number of our residents who are in need of some type of mental health intervention.”
Six years ago, mental health professionals at MHMR of Tarrant County responded to 60 calls per month from police departments. These days, the agency gets about 800 per month.
MHMR officials said the increase came about because the agency has reached out to police. It has long had a working relationship with the Hurst Police Department.
Bennett said one of the goals of the new program will be to continue wellness checks on residents with mental health issues.
“Officers will get to know these people and their issues,” Bennett said. “Officers will stop by their homes and check to see if they have made their doctor appointments or if they are taking their medications.”
Three years ago, Bedford police created a repeat victimization unit, a group of officers accompanied by mental health professionals that visits residents to make sure they are current with medications and therapy.
The new hire goes a step further by placing a mental health professional in a new police storefront on Pipeline Road in Hurst, in a building shared with Bedford police.
Bennett will be responsible for follow-ups on cases as well as training for patrol officers, detectives, dispatchers, jailers and police civilians.
The normal mental health training for Texas police officers is three days of basic training on crisis intervention. Some departments require 40 hours of additional training.
In many cases, Bennett will work as a hostage negotiator with suburban police department SWAT teams, police said.
This report contains information from Star-Telegram archives.
Domingo Ramirez Jr., 817-390-7763
Statistics in Hurst, Euless and Bedford show the number of crisis calls has increased since 2011:
▪ Euless reported 154 in 2011 and 225 in 2013.
▪ Bedford responded to 311 in 2011 and 356 in 2013.
▪ Hurst officers responded to 352 in 2011 and 448 in 2013.