North Texas Daily

Denton police need more mental health training

Denton police need more mental health training

Denton police need more mental health training
February 21
11:26 2020

Denton Police officers shot and killed UNT student Darius Tarver, 23, outside the Forum apartments at Denton Station in the early morning of Jan 21, according to the Denton Record-Chronicle.

CBS DFW now reports that the Texas Rangers are currently investigating the circumstances around the shooting, while Tarver’s father, Fred, questions the events.

So what really happened in the shooting of Tarver? For some background, a week prior to his death, Tarver had been in a car crash, according to WFAA. The extent to which this potentially traumatic incident impacted him is unclear, though he was put into the ICU briefly and released the next day. His family told WFAA they now believe he may have been released too early, a potential oversight which could very well have set him on the road to his death.

Tarver began to exhibit incredibly “erratic” behavior after the accident, according to an interview with his roommates by the Denton Record-Chronicle. These episodes climaxed in Tarver barricading his room, resulting in one roommate calling the police. When first responders arrived, authorities said that Tarver confronted them with a cleaver and frying pan, wounding one officer. After non-compliance, he was tased and then shot after the tasing did not appear to subdue him.

Based on the information about the accident and ensuing “erratic” behavior, I believe it was pretty clear that Tarver was in the midst of a mental crisis, the accident leaving him in a mentally impaired state in which he was not able to rationally make decisions.

Incidents like these haven’t gone unnoticed by law enforcement.

Due to increased stresses in American society and questionable access to mental health services in some areas, federal departments and law enforcement have taken it upon themselves to open special programs dedicated to crisis intervention. This can include anything as simple as crisis lines to specially trained mental health officers.

Designated “Mental Health Deputies,” under the Texas Health and Human Services, are “officers specially trained in crisis interventions through Texas Commission on Law Enforcement who work collaboratively with the community and the crisis-response teams of Local Mental Health Authorities and Local Behavioral Health Authorities.”

Meanwhile, the UNT PD has received mental health-focused training in the past, according to a past North Texas Daily report. They’ve been accredited by at least two agencies, trained with other departments and strengthened their relationship with local mental health services.

In the past 60 days, there were at least seven incidents involving an individual designated a “mentally ill person,” as listed by UNTPD’s 60-day Crime Log.

Elsewhere, the training and resources the Denton Police Department has put toward accommodating those with mental health issues remain unclear. The two phone calls I put into their mental health services during office hours went unanswered.

So, what is the DPD doing to accommodate those will severe mental health issues? We don’t really know.

Tarver’s father, a police chaplain, had viewed the footage and found that it contradicted official accounts of events, according to a tweet by S. Lee Merritt, a Civil Rights lawyer.  Tarver’s car accident was referred to as “near-fatal” and Tarver was suffering from a “traumatic brain injury,” according to the tweets.

What is clear is that the officers should have noticed that Tarver was not in the right state of mind. Of course, there’s the fact that he was armed with a meat cleaver and charged an officer, but it seems that line of events is in question by Kevin Tarver Sr., Darius’s father who viewed the bodycam footage. Tarver Sr. himself claims the first responders didn’t try to de-escalate the situation. So this begs the question: Did Denton’s boys-in-blue have the right training and care to properly handle someone like Tarver?

I would say no. While UNT PD has been relatively open about its own protocols for crisis intervention, the same cannot be said for the DPD.

If first responders did not try to de-escalate the incident, that shows not only incredible negligence on their part to protect and serve, but also they’re clearly in need of help and care.

The Denton Police Department needs to prioritize training its officers to de-escalate situations like the one Tarver found himself in and to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

If more resources are not put toward crisis intervention and/or mental health deputies, clearly troubled individuals like Tarver may be at the mercy of improperly trained police who either simply aren’t prepared, or even worse, who do not care.

Featured Illustration: Jae-Eun Suh

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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