Patience is key to keeping the peace for UTMB officers

At every University of Texas Medical Branch facility, UTMB Police prevent crime and keep the peace with professional patience that comes with tested strength.

It’s a holistic approach to policing that stops problems before they escalate. The UTMB Police Department is part of a multidisciplinary team that helps people going through a crisis. A behavioral assessment team might include police officers, mental health professionals and other experienced specialists.

“We often serve as mediators between angry patients and family members in the institution to try to negotiate a better outcome,” Inspector Stefan Happ said.

A recent case that UTMB Police handled is a prime example. A man couldn’t get certain medical supplies delivered to his house because of a delayed prescription from UTMB. Feeling like this endangered his life and safety, he made threats over the phone to UTMB clinical staff.

“Our detectives went to his house and interviewed him in person and essentially calmed him down and focused on his complaint,” Happ said.

Once the officers understood that it was a supply chain issue and that the man was exasperated, the officers were able to coordinate with the clinic to get his prescription.

“The clinic actually brought some of those supplies he needed to his house that day, so he was able to get some temporary supplies to carry him through until he got his delivery,” Happ said. “And he apologized for the threats he made. We made a police report and told him, ‘If this continues, you could end up getting arrested.’ But he was very apologetic. He said, ‘No, I was just angry and concerned, and I shouldn’t have said that.’”

Not only did the officers negotiate a positive outcome, but the man expressed his satisfaction with UTMB going the extra mile to help him.

“Often, when we show up, the assessment reveals that the reason they’re upset is complicated and complex,” Happ said. “They have someone they can talk to and voice their concerns in person, while we’re assessing them to see if they’re an actual threat.”

UTMB officers have the resources to go out to somebody’s house, meet with them in person and quickly delve down to what the issue is and assess the situation right then and there, Happ said.

“We’re not in a rush,” he said. “Our officers can take the time to try to deal with people with the patience and the de-escalation that resolves those situations in a better way.”

Every officer in the UTMB Police Department is a certified mental health officer through the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. The 40-hour certification class teaches police officers how to interact with individuals undergoing a mental health crisis.

“This type of training is usually offered only to a few officers in most law enforcement agencies,” said Assistant Chief David De Ore. This contrasts with the entire force at UTMB being certified mental health officers. Within six months of being hired, new UTMB officers get this certification.

And they get other professional training. Lots of it.

Every officer gets quarterly training to respond appropriately to an active shooter incident. Last year, every officer received advanced medical training, timed bunker drills and breaching training. All this is possible through the commitment of Chief Ken Adcox and the command staff, De Ore said. To reduce training costs, members of the command staff, criminal investigators and support services staff work in patrol so the frontline officers can attend training.

“We increased the amount of training and purchased additional equipment to make sure every officer is provided with the appropriate tools so they can properly do their job,” De Ore said.

UTMB Police use principles from The National Association for Behavioral Intervention and Threat Assessment to guide how officers resolve issues, Happ said. These approaches include mental health professionals. If it’s a UTMB employee, Human Resources or the Employee Assistance Program might be able to help. If it’s a student at UTMB, assistance is also available through various offices.

“We are not out to arrest people,” Happ said. “We do not measure our success by what other police departments might be measuring their success by— how many people they arrest or crimes they solve. We measure our success by nothing happening, which is kind of hard to measure sometimes.”

People should not hesitate to let someone know about a person who seems troubled or is acting strange. Do not worry about the stigma of “turning someone in,” Happ advised. Instead, look at it as helping someone in crisis.

“If you encounter someone who is acting suspicious, don’t hold it in,” Happ said. “We are here to help people.”

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