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Adding psychologist to sheriff’s staff good investment

September 19, 2018

The addition of a psychologist to Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar’s staff is a good first step in addressing the alarming number of deputies who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law.

Since January, 19 deputies have been arrested, including four during one recent week. Among the arrests were 10 officers apprehended for violent crimes and six for driving while intoxicated.

The $118,000 for the new staff position was included in the $1.7 billion budget approved by Bexar County commissioners last week. Salazar said he plans to ask for funding for an additional psychologist in next year’s budget to handle the growing needs of his staff.

The department employs 1,500 peace officers, 900 of whom are assigned to the jail, and about 300 civilians.

Salazar, a former San Antonio Police Department officer who is in his second year as sheriff, said he was surprised to find no psychologist on staff when he took office in 2017.

“It was a foreign concept to me to have no psychologist. It was a culture shock,” he said, noting SAPD has three on staff.

Over the past 18 months, the sheriff said, he has contracted with psychologists as needed — primarily in cases involving officer-involved shootings.

The sheriff wants his staff psychologist to play an active role in screening applicants and helping deputies manage stress. He also wants the psychologist to play a role in the department’s internal promotion program and the continuing education deputies receive.

Salazar is at a loss to explain the high number of arrests within in his department. He said some of it might be part of a subculture that sometimes develops in law enforcement in which people start thinking the law does not apply to them.

He said he does not think more crime is being committed by law enforcement officers, but rather more arrests are being made due to the use of body and dashboard cameras. In the past, it was not unusual for a police officer stopped for DWI to catch a break from a fellow law enforcement officer and get a ride home instead of to jail.

Most sheriff’s deputies, with a few exceptions, begin as detention officers. Under Salazar, the academy for aspiring detention officers has gone from a seven-week training course to 11 weeks. Soon it will be expanded to 12 weeks, including three weeks of on-the-job training.

The attrition rate among detention officers remains problematic. Salazar said at one time that it was in the 18 percent to 20 percent range but has been reduced to single digits.

A psychologist on board might serve to further stabilize those numbers.

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