Cornyn Pushes Mental Health Bill, Applauds Pharr PD Mental Health Unit

PHARR — U.S. Sen. John Cornyn visited the Pharr ONE Northside Center Thursday for a roundtable discussion with local law enforcement, mental health providers and city officials.

Cornyn was in town to discuss the Mental Health Justice and Reauthorization Act, which would reauthorize expiring grant programs for mental health courts, crisis intervention teams and other initiatives that help law enforcement help people with mental illness, such as the Pharr Mental Health Unit.

After the roundtable discussion, which was not open to local media, Cornyn toured the Pharr ONE Northside Center before hosting a news conference in which he praised the Pharr Police Department’s mental health unit.

“It’s great to come back to Pharr and really celebrate the initiative and the great work that’s happening here in a relatively small town where we know the resources aren’t usually available to do the innovative things that are happening here today. Cornyn said.

The Justice and Mental Health Partnership Reauthorization Act, introduced by Cornyn, would increase the funding authorization from $50 million annually to $60 million annually. The bill passed the US Senate with unanimous support on June 23. It is currently awaiting action in Parliament.

“One of the things we were able to do was introduce a bill called the Justice and Mental Health Partnership Reauthorization Act, recognizing that law enforcement encounters people who are experiencing a mental health challenge,” Cornyn said. . “Honestly, unless they’re trained to de-escalate that confrontation, sometimes it can be a danger to the officer, but also to the person who made the 911 call.”

“It’s great to see innovation happening here,” the senator added.

Cornyn said the goal of his bill is to help relieve pressure on law enforcement officers who may find themselves in mental health situations for which they have no training.

Sen. John Cornyn, right, participates in a roundtable discussion with law enforcement and mental health professionals Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, in Pharr. (Frank Jimenez | The Monitor)

Pharr PD’s mental health unit was established in December 2020 in partnership with Tropical Texas Behavioral Health just months after Andy Harvey began his tenure as police chief.

“The roundtable was very informative and it’s good to hear views from the federal government,” Harvey said after Thursday’s event. “In this case, Senator Cornyn was talking to us about what they’re seeing and what they’re talking about in Washington because we need their help. We can’t do it alone. We need help from the federal government, our state government, our local government and we also need help working with other agencies like Tropical and the District Attorney’s Office. The reality is that they need money. It is not free.”

Harvey said the roundtable was an opportunity to highlight his department’s success with the mental health unit, as well as the importance of it not only continuing in its current capacity, but growing and improving.

“We’ve come to this point and now we’re going to continue to provide a higher level of service, but we can’t do it alone as a police service,” Harvey said. “We need to work with our other partners and agencies here. This is the way we influence not only our city but also our region.”

Tropical Texas Behavioral Health CEO Terry Crocker, who attended the roundtable meeting, said Cornyn’s visit was a good sign for future funding.

“Anytime we get attention from elected officials, especially at the federal level, it increases our chances of getting those federal dollars here to do more different things and expand the things we’re already doing very well,” Crocker said. “Having the senator’s support is of the utmost importance.”

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