Officers Ned Bandoske, left, and Ernest Stevens (Photo by Jenny Gold/KHN).
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SAN ANTONIO — It’s almost 4 p.m., and Officers Ernest Stevens and Ned Bandoske have been driving around town in their black unmarked SUV since early this morning.
When it first came out, I was very skeptical. I thought, well this is ridiculous.
The officers are part of San Antonio’s mental health squad – a six-person unit that answers the frequent emergency calls where mental illness may be an issue.
The officers spot a call for help on their laptop from a group home across town.
“A male individual put a blanket on fire this morning, he’s arguing with them, and is a danger to himself and others, he’s off his medications,” Stevens reads from the blotter.
Officer Stevens talks to a young man named Mason, who has set his blanket on fire and says he is hearing voices (Photo by Jenny Gold/KHN)
A few minutes later, the SUV pulls up in front of the group home in a run-down part of the city. A thin 24-year-old sits on a wooden bench in a concrete lot out back, wearing a black hoodie. His bangs hang in damp curls over his forehead.
“You’re Mason?” asks Bandoske. “What happened to your blanket?”
Eight years ago, a person like Mason would have been heading to the emergency room or jail next. Continue reading