Franchesica was what Houston police call a “chronic consumer.”
About every other month, said Franchesica, a mentally ill woman who declined to give her last name, she had “episodes” in which she would “go off,” banging the wall with her head. They landed her in the Harris County Psychiatric Center more than once, she said, and in prison, too.
That changed after she started getting visits from Shadawn McCants, a case manager from the Mental Health Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County. Last year, the city spent $134,000 on the Chronic Consumer Stabilization Initiative that sends McCants and a colleague to check on people who make a police-produced list of the 30 people with mental illness whom officers are dispatched to see the most. Among them are a 53-year-old man who police ended up taking to psychiatric lockup 19 times in one year, and a 28-year-old woman who went 11 times.
The idea is that with regular reminders to take medications, tips on how to manage their symptoms, even rides to psychiatrist appointments, the money spent on case managers is far less than the cost of repeatedly booking the same people into jail or committing them to a publicly funded psychiatric ward.
According to the Houston Police Department, it is working.
Since the program began,run-ins between police and the top 30 chronic consumers have declined by 53 percent, as have the number of trips to the county psychiatric hospital, HPD officials said.
Based on that, City Council on Wednesday voted to double the program, expanding it to four case managers to keep tabs on 60 people.
The initiative was born of the 2007 fatal shootings of two people with mental illness by police in a three-month span. In one case, a woman entered the downtown police headquarters and lunged at an officer with a knife. In the second, a man wielding a pipe charged an officer on a street in southeast Houston. Police shot both people after Tasers failed to subdue them. Two years later, the police ran the numbers and MHMRA dispatched the case managers.
Wednesday’s unanimous vote to increase spending on the program to $256,000 this fiscal year was a formality after Councilman Ed Gonzalez, a former police officer, attached an amendment to this year’s budget to double the size of CCSI.
Gonzalez said the program protects people with mental illness, the officers dispatched for crisis encounters and the taxpayers’ wallets. He looked at the numbers police reported to Council and said, “There’s a lot of savings in those percentages” in avoided arrests, ambulance rides and psychiatric center commitments.
“That’s a much more effective and humane way of dealing with the problem,” Gonzalez said.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police recognized the program with its community policing award in 2010.
Franchesica entered the program last year. McCants visits her each week at Liberty Island Personal Care Facility in Alief. On Wednesday, McCants brought a package of toiletries, snacks and bus passes, scheduled a doctor’s visit and checked on prescription refills. She also swapped some good-natured jibes and listened to Franchesica give an update on her personal life. Franchesica gives McCants some of the credit for her four-month run without a visit from police.
“I’m not feeling better, but I’m doing better, because I’m controlling my temper,” Franchesica said.
In addition to the visits, there are calls, lots of them. Franchesica said she had called McCants 27 times in the two days preceding this week’s visit.
“These are calls that would have been made to 911,” McCants said. “Instead, they’re made to us.”
Some of what ails Franchesica is not curable with a visit to the psychiatrist.
“Tell my children I love them and I miss them,” she told a reporter.