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New Denton Police Approach to Mental Health Issues



DENTON, TX – Denton Police are launching a new approach to mental health issues by teaming four officers with four clinicians who have experience with people making threats of suicide or homicide.

“I think this is where we’re going to become close with our officers in learning what we can allow an individual to do, to self soothe, to get control of the situation rather than exacerbate,” said Licensed Clinical Social Work Supervisor Sara Gawor.

She is leading Denton’s new Crisis Intervention Teams.

They will respond when they know they are needed or when called by police to a tense situation.

Denton Police Chief Frank Dixon supported the change in the wake of the death of 23-year old Darius Tarver.

The University of North Texas student was just four months away from graduation when he was reported to be smashing a frying pan and behaving erratically.

Police body cam video showed officers using a taser on Tarver but he lunged at them again with a kitchen knife before he was shot and killed by police.

“Anytime that a life is taken it’s a tragic circumstance and we don’t want it to happen,” Chief Dixon said that day.

The officers were cleared of all wrongdoing in April.

Tarver’s father Kevin Tarver, a chaplain with McKinney Police, has said that Darius was having a mental health crisis and should not have been killed.

Thursday Kevin Tarver said the new approach from Denton Police is still not enough because he believes Denton lacks sufficient accountability for officer actions.

Kevin Tarver repeated comments he made in April after the officers were cleared.

“There has to be accountability. And with no accountability, no transparency, it’s like, every time a person is attacked it’s like David and Goliath,” the father said.

The new supervisor of clinicians teaming with Denton Police hopes they can make a difference.

“Maybe I recognize somebody as pacing or being upset, and letting them self soothe a little bit, rather than seeing it as a sign of aggression towards me, Gawor said. “I don’t know if we can prevent all crises, but the idea is to have an improved response and be able to utilize us and build rapport in the community.”

As the new Denton program begins, Kevin Tarver said he was meeting Thursday evening with other people touched by police tragedies in his ongoing push for more reform.

Other cities around the nation and in North Texas have made similar efforts to improve response to mental health issues.

Dallas calls their program “Right Care,” with a police officer, a mental health clinician and a Fire Rescue paramedic responding together. Dallas officials intend to expand the program for 10 such teams in the next city budget.