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'Two Suicides Too Many': Bexar County Sheriff's Office To Add Prevention Deputies

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Carson Frame / TPR News
Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar introduces the Detention Mental Evaluation Team

So far in 2017, two people have committed suicide while incarcerated at the Bexar County Adult Detention Center. Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar announced Monday that a team of four deputies will help patrol the jail and screen at-risk inmates.  

The Detention Mental Evaluation Team will have the ability to move about freely in Bexar County Jail, relying on specialized mental health training to identify suicide warning signs. 

Salazar said suicide prevention protocols at detention centers around the country rely too much on information gathered during the initial booking process. 

"They'll ask them a series of questions and they'll use that to gauge whether a person is apt to commit suicide," Salazar said. "To me, that's a bit like taking your temperature today to tell me if you're going to get the flu in six months."

Inmates do not always display suicide warning signs at intake, Salazar said. Prevention requires a more direct, hands-on approach, which he believes DMET will provide.

"Many times it takes aggressively going into the jail population and actively seeking out people; that's what these folks will allow us to do," he said. "Really get into the population and pull people out more proactively than we've done in the past."

Manuel Medellin is one of the deputies in the newly-formed DMET unit. He said he's worked for the sheriff's office for 18 years. 

"Working with mentals and people with different backgrounds, it makes you see things a little differently," he said. "You have to have empathy for them."

DMET has received training from partner organizations like University Hospital, the San Antonio Police Department mental health unit, and the Bexar County mental health unit. Medellin believes that that training is evident in how he talks to inmates. 

"We use our training. We try to establish a rapport so that we can bring out some of the problems that they're having, or get them to be more comfortable talking," he said.

When an inmate exhibits problems beyond what DMET can handle, that inmate is referred out for treatment. 

"We do what we can," Medellin said. "If it gets to the point where you can no longer establish a good rapport, you have to reach out to other resources like mental health counselors or University Hospital."