Commissioner Ellis Applauds Expansion of Holistic Assistance Response Team, a Behavioral Health First Responder Program that Exceeded Year 1 Goals and Freed Up Over 1,500 Deputy Hours

17 May, 23

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday voted to expand the Holistic Assistance Response Team (HART), a program that was piloted last year by Harris County Public Health in collaboration with the Harris County Sherriff’s Office (HCSO).

HART sends first-responder teams trained in behavioral health, crisis intervention, and on‐scene medical assistance to answer non-emergency 911 calls for issues related to behavioral and mental health, social welfare checks, substance use and homelessness. In its first year, the program successfully responded to 2,265 calls—far exceeding its goal of 750 and freeing up over 1,500 deputy hours to focus on public safety priorities.

“HART is a success. In its first year, it has made communities safer by connecting people experiencing crises and other challenges to counseling, care, and long-term resources while freeing up law enforcement to focus on 911 emergencies and public safety,” said Commissioner Rodney Ellis.

Commissioner Ellis led the effort on Commissioners Court to pilot HART as part of a broader public health strategy to improve community safety and address issues related to mental health, homelessness, substance use and a lack of resources.

HART operates in HCSO District 1, which includes Cypress Station and has the highest number of nonviolent 911 calls. Through the end of pilot year, HART responded to over 2,265 non-emergency 911 calls, helping to reduce the burden on law enforcement and emergency services. The proposal seeks to expand HART to HCSO District 4 in Commissioner Precinct 4.

“I’m proud to expand HART into Precinct 4, and applaud Commissioner Ellis for leading the initial launch of this critical program in Harris County,” said Precinct 4 Commissioner Lesley Briones. “Working closely with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and Harris County Public Health to implement HART, we have seen how taking a holistic, data-driven approach to justice and public safety has led to better outcomes for our community. HART makes our community safer by connecting those in crisis with treatment and by freeing up law enforcement officers to focus on violent crime. It is a win-win.”

Said Commissioner Ellis: “Our law enforcement officers are spread too thin responding to calls where the primary issue is poverty, lack of financial resources, substance use, and mental illness.  Achieving real safety in every community requires coordinated investments in public health, community-based resources, and law enforcement—that’s what HART is about. I support its expansion and applaud the leadership from Harris County Public Health, the Sherriff’s Office, and Commissioner Briones to make this happen.”

The expansion would require an estimated $2.6 million investment to provide 24/7 response services in HCSO Districts 1 and 4. A data analysis identified HCSO District 4, which borders Waller and Fort Bend counties and includes Jersey Village, as a high-need area with the second-highest volume of nonviolent HART-eligible calls across the five districts. Out of the 64,537 calls received by HCSO District 4 between October 2021 and October 2022, 9,145 were eligible for HART. District 4 also reported the highest percentage of mental health calls and welfare checks. In its first year in District 4, HART is projected to handle 7,500 calls, which is 30 percent of the district’s current 911-call volume.

“This is a program that belongs in every precinct. Expanding HART will make our communities safer and healthier. It’s a critical tool to care for people experiencing a crisis or challenges that can be better addressed through care instead of criminalization and incarceration,” said Commissioner Ellis.

As the nation faces a growing mental health crisis, demand for programs like HART is also increasing. A recent poll from the National Alliance on Mental Illness conducted by marketing research firm IPSOS found: “Contrary to current practices, Americans believe that those experiencing a mental health or suicide crisis should receive a mental health response (86%) compared to a police response (13%).”

“Programs like HART build meaningful relationships in our communities – relationships that can be life-saving when someone is in crisis,” Commissioner Ellis said. “We’re replacing incarceration with conversation, and giving folks a clear path to healing and self-sufficiency. Every person is different, and every situation is nuanced. Because HART is designed on that premise, the program can create lasting change.