Uncommon Policing on Common Ground: A Multi-disciplinary Approach to Solving Disorder Problems within the Community

photo: image of hoarder's kitchen in disarrayImagine responding to a call at someone’s home and suddenly realizing after the door was opened, that you have walked into a situation where adults and children are living in deplorable and unsafe conditions. You experience everything from narrow or limited pathways in the home due to accumulation of materials, foul odors emanating from various piles, excessive amounts of companion animals, vermin and/or insect infestations, spoiled and/or rotting food, accumulated human and/or animal waste, and non-working or inaccessible utilities, such as no heating or air conditioning, no running water, backed-up sewers, and a lack of food refrigeration. Public attention and awareness of such living conditions is growing in America, largely due to television shows depicting compulsive hoarders.

Lieutenant Mark Schwobel, of the Hurst Police Department in Hurst, Texas, shared that the initiative of the Hurst Intervention Team (HIT) was exclusively developed to respond to such scenarios. One of the team’s objectives is to provide a timely and coordinated response that results in long-term improvements and the resolution of community problems. HIT consists of a collection of multi-disciplinary professionals who are equipped to provide an assortment of services as well as continual follow-up visits to ensure positive long-term improvements.

The HIT evolved out of both the local Customer Service Advisory Team (C.S.A.T), which established a foundation of values consisting of honesty, respect, dedication, teamwork, professionalism, and a positive attitude when providing customer service, and the Leadership Council whose task was to identify and develop emerging leaders, create mentoring relationships, and provide expertise in addressing special projects and community issues. As a direct result of this collaboration, HIT has experienced an overwhelming improvement in communications, as well as the mutual understanding and appreciation of the entire community. Local interest in this initiative is evidenced by the voluntary participation from employees throughout the department and the community. Since the inception of this enterprise, additional stakeholders have been created, such as Neighborhoods in Action and the MHMR Mental Health Law Liaison Project, as well as others.

In response to mental health behaviors linked to “hoarding,” many jurisdictions throughout the nation exclusively deploy mental health professionals to address this disorder. These responders are traditionally comprised of non-profit, faith-based, and private resources, with the focus largely geared toward hoarders. Police participation in such endeavors is rare.

However, the approach that the Hurst Police Department has taken includes the police, fire department, animal control, and code enforcement, along with an array of physical and mental health professionals. This unique approach strongly relies on information sharing regarding problem locations, and depends on collaborative team responses. HIT commonly responds to locations that include hoarders, substandard structures, chronic medical patients, and other similar problems. Due to the heightened awareness of this issue, there has been an increase in the identification of problem properties, and HIT continues to respond to a host of complex issues and problems around this disorder. The department has begun to track their efforts in order to ensure their continual progress.

Advanced research through intelligence gathering and investigations can sometimes merit an application for a warrant. These critical steps provide a layer of increased safety for all of the responding partners who come in contact with the inhabitants of the residence. When responding to a residence, care is given to avoid overwhelming the citizen as much as possible. Assessing the situation, coupled with gathering additional intelligence, contributes to a comprehensively well-thought-out response. The benefit of this multi-disciplinary collaborative response is that it ensures clear communication between partners and provides for immediate decision-making. Mental and medical health conditions are assessed, code violations are documented, and criminal activities identified.
As the HIT’s model continues to evolve, their goal of helping local families gain and retain compliance with building occupant code standards, and receive the necessary treatment for mental and physical health remains the same. The support that they receive from public and private stakeholders is paramount to their operations and continued accomplishments.

As a HIT training tool, statutes and court cases are discussed at length in order to avoid any misstep, because it is paramount to the law enforcement officers in these types of operations that care is given to protect the rights of all people, particularly in their homes.

If you are interested in additional information on the Hurst Police Department’s HIT, you can contact Lieutenant Mark Schwobel at 817.788.7163.

-Linda R. Gist
Supervisory Senior Policy Analyst
The COPS Office

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