Dealing with mental illness in the world of law enforcement operations was a main theme focused on this past week by Panola County Sheriff Cutter Clinton.

The event was a ceremony combining the swearing into office of two deputies and announcing the promotion of two longtime officers. But Clinton also used the opportunity to let his officers and the public know that going forward within the department there will be a renewed focus on dealing with mental health issues.

Recognized for promotions were Deputy Scott Jones as the county’s mental health deputy and Kacy Jones as chief detention officer. Sworn into office were new Panola County Deputies James McBrayer and Matthew Mitchell.

While Clinton did the swearing in honors, each new deputy had their new badges pinned on their uniforms by their wives, Kelsey McBrayer and Christin Mitchell.

Clinton said one of the important goals he has had since taking office was placing a focus on dealing with mental health issues. Towards that end he was the announced promotion of Scott Jones to as the department’s mental health deputy.

“There’s a growing trend in our society and in law enforcement that there is more and more obligation on law enforcement, particularly the sheriff’s office, to deal with the mentally ill in our community,” Clinton said. Those added duties include transporting prisoners who may have behavioral issues and the need to supervise those in custody while they are hospitalized for either evaluation or for being provided health care.

“There are also preventative measures we can take to hopefully form a good plan when a person goes into crises,” he said. Under the umbrella of Jones taking on the role of a deputy with mental health responsibilities is dealing with suicidal subjects.

Jones will be called upon to coordinate efforts with patrol officers and the detention center when officers may be dealing with subjects who have mental health issues.

“The idea of that is to establish a rapport with these people and to also make a contact with their families to make sure we have good contact information so if they do go into crises again we have a good game plan on exploring our options on how we deal with that,” Clinton said.

“We’re not excusing any criminal act,” Clinton said. “We want to make sure people have an opportunity for redemption and change, but there are still requirements they must follow in order to live in our society.”

Among those county residents the sheriff’s office is tasked with dealing with on a regular basis are people convicted of sex offenses.

There are 79 registered sex offenders known to be living in Panola County. Clinton said part of Jones’ expanded duties will include being over sex offender compliance.

“Deputy Jones has become a certified mental health deputy with the state of Texas,” he said. Clinton also said he holds that designation.

According to Texas Department of Health and Human Services, the mental health deputy program augments the state’s crises response system by diverting people in need of behavioral health crises services away from hospitals and jail for more effective and less costly behavioral treatment. DHS said mental health deputies are law enforcement officers with additional specialized training in crises intervention provided by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.