Some violent interaction between civilians and law enforcement officers is inevitable. In some communities, this may take the form of conflict between African Americans and police. Law enforcement agencies may respond by saying the threats faced by officers are under-reported and unappreciated.
To prepare this column, I visited Blanco County Chief Deputy Neal Leonard and Johnson City Interim Police Chief Marty Corcoran to hear their thoughts about this week’s topic. According to Leonard, rather than race, the greater challenge in Blanco County is conflict between law enforcement and radical right groups, such as Sovereign Nation and Republic of Texas.
On-duty officer deaths in the United States have been dropping since the early 1970s. In 2015, it was at the lowest level since 1960. This coincides with a 49 percent decline in violent crime between 1994 and 2014.
Leonard and Corcoran agree that a pressing law enforcement issue in Blanco County is interactions with people who have mental health challenges. These interactions put residents and people passing through into contact with law enforcement, providing opportunities for violence to occur.
Nationwide, 25 percent of people killed by police have an untreated mental health disorder. These people—our family members, friends, and neighbors—are 16 times more likely than you or me to be involved in a police shooting.
Texas has the 7th highest number of incarcerated people with mental health needs in the nation. One in five Texans has a mental health need, and the burden of caring for those who are untreated often falls on county jails. This issue gained mainstream attention with the suicide of Sandra Bland in the Waller County Jail in 2015. According to Leonard, the Sandra Bland Act requires training for jailers to recognize and assist people who are in crisis. The Blanco County Sheriff’s department now has three mental health officers who have received special training.
Corcoran said police officers bear their fair share of the responsibility for interactions with civilians. He noted that while it is important to practice tactical skills, officers must also gain the communication skills and confidence to deal with people who may be agitated, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or who may come from a different culture.
Democrats understand that everything is connected. There are no easy answers to the complex issues facing our country and community. For example, there is a connection between Texas rejecting the expansion of Medicaid and the millions of uninsured Texans who are unable to obtain or pay for mental healthcare services.
A quick search for mental healthcare services in Blanco County found a state-run clinic and two licensed therapists. These providers cannot meet the needs of more than 2000 county residents with mental healthcare issues. Poor access to mental healthcare services is putting residents and officers at risk. Let’s elect a Texas legislature that will tackle these complex issues and come up with real solutions to keep us and our law enforcement officers safe.
These blogs are often published in the Johnson City Record Courier as part of the ‘Record Discourse’ series that examines public policy issues from the perspective of an active Democrat and an active Republican in our community. Typically the Republican response is not worth comment. However, their commentary published on May 17 is an exception.
Here is a quote from the Republican column. “Democratic politicians need the support of low income and minority voters and in order to gain that support they need an enemy. If there is no enemy, then there is no one to blame other than the Democratic party themselves. The obvious source of blame in this situation was police officers. Just like many “hashtag campaigns,” progressives used celebrities, athletes and minority lawmakers to demonize law enforcement as a whole. Their plan worked. The hate dominoes back and forth across the country until 5 Dallas Police officers were assassinated in the line of duty as they protected the very people who marched against them [italics added].”
Wow. In one paragraph she accuses Democrats of needing an enemy then proceeds to make Democrats the enemy of law enforcement and ultimately places the blame of the unconscionable deaths of the Dallas Police officers on progressives, celebrities, athletes, and minority law makers.
Based on the very informative and candid conversations I had with Chief Deputy Neal Leonard and acting Johnson City Chief of Police Marty Corcoran, I can report that there was absolutely no indication of blame on the Democratic Party, individual Democrats, or progressives by either of these law enforcement leaders. I wonder what they will think and say about this column.
This is what we are up against folks.