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Sheriff’s Office Special Needs Unit recognized at Commissioners Court

The Special Needs Unit of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, which works with mentally ill inmates was recognized for its efforts by the Commissioners Court on Monday.

The Paso Del Norte Health Foundation partnered up with the Sheriff’s Office three years ago to create a program to help end the negative stigma associated with mental illness.

The foundation donated $140,000 over the last three years to train more that 400 Sheriff’s Office staff on mental health first aid.

“The biggest part of this partnership is Mental Health First Aid, which is a national training agenda for a lot of law enforcement and community members that teaches individuals how to see the signs and symptoms of someone that may have mental illness,” said Michaela Hebeker, a Lieutenant with the El Paso County Sheriff’s office who works with the unit. “When you have mental illness, it can become a revolving door if you don’t get treatment, and it becomes a public safety issue.”

El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles said since the partnership is relatively new, they are still gathering data to see how effective the training has been. Still he believes it’s been positive.

“We have individual officers who are interested in working with the mentally ill, they are receiving special training,” Wiles said. “It’s very expensive to house mentally ill people in our jails, when they should be receiving treatment in the community.”

Wiles said the goal is to not have to incarcerate certain individuals who commit minor crimes. Instead, they want to get that individual help.

“We wanted to ensure that we were providing the proper connections to ensure a continuity of care so that when they get back out on the street, they’re not coming back in,” Wiles said. “Clearly some crimes are so serious they need to be held responsible, so we’re going to hold them if they can’t bond out, and then how we deal with them in the facility to make sure they don’t decompensate.”

The resolution to honor the Special Needs Unit was proposed by county commissioner David Stout. It passed unanimously.

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