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Treatment facility touts improvements as League City police grow frustrated

By MATT DEGROOD The Daily News​ ​ ​

LEAGUE CITY

More than a month after nine residents were arrested during what police describe as a riot, officials at a behavioral health facility assert they’ve improved conditions by hiring private security officers.

Police leaders, however, remain skeptical that Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health Texas is committed to improvement. They argue the department is spending more time responding to calls at the campus and complain company officials haven’t been helpful in addressing the problem.

Since January 2019, League City police have responded to more than 359 calls for service at the facility, which would be the fifth-highest source of calls in Galveston County’s biggest city, Police Chief Gary Ratliff said.

The facility falls just below the likes of Walmart and Target, among other big box stores, in calls for service.

“If you thought they were really trying to make a difference and fix the problems, why do the number of calls continue to go up year after year?” Ratliff said. “Why now, all of a sudden? There’s a major incident that gets media attention, and now they want to talk about it.”

Facility managers, meanwhile, said they wished police would go to them with concerns and that they were willing to discuss anything that might improve the relationship.

“We’re an open book,” said Pamela Reed, executive director of the facility. “We care about our relationship with the community and will meet or have a call with anyone.”

Police in October arrested nine patients in a disturbance involving 11 people at the 49-acre facility, 1150 Devereux Drive. In the days after the incident, officials with the facility announced plans to hire private security officers and increase other staffing.

Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health is one of the biggest behavioral health organizations in the country, according to its national website.

The League City facility, which has operated since 1992, serves as many as 100 clients at a time from across the country, said David Roberds-Roach, the director of business development for the facility. Students and clients are adolescents and adults between the ages of 11 and 22 who have complex treatment needs, including severe mental illness, learning disabilities and a history of trauma.

The average length of a student’s stay at the facility is about a year, although the programs are not time-based, Roberds-Roach said.

Parents or guardians, including states that have assumed guardianship of children, place clients in the facility for a variety of reasons, Roberds-Roach said.

The nature of the facility means some clients have trouble coping with stress and can act out at times, he said.

The coronavirus pandemic also has caused problems for some residents who aren’t accustomed to being unable to access the community as they once did and haven’t seen their relatives as often as before, Roberds-Roach said.

League City and Devereux officials said it was hard to compare the number of police calls at the facility with similar facilities elsewhere.

While there are similar facilities in states such as Georgia, Galveston County has no comparable businesses and there no others like it in Texas, Reed said.

Regardless, Devereux’s League City facility has been a huge drain of police resources in recent years, based on information contained in a report compiled by the police department in October.

Criminal investigations at Devereux increased by about 250 percent, from about 13 to 98, from 2018 to 2019, according to the report.

“Starting several years ago, officers were frustrated because they were getting runaway and missing person calls out there on a weekly basis,” Ratliff said. “Officers would dispatch to the area and go and chase down students, and employees would just watch. Officers were frustrated at the lack of support from Devereux.”

Police department officials eventually met with Devereux officials to discuss their concerns, as well as learn what facility employees could and could not do, but the meeting didn’t lead to any measurable decrease in the frequency of calls, Ratliff said.

Officers also had to rescue about 65 children from the building during Hurricane Harvey and have responded to assaults and issues there on a regular basis, Ratliff said.

Hurricane Harvey struck the region in late 2017, dropping more than 50 inches on some parts of the county and causing severe flooding.

Police experts estimate calls to Devereux have accounted for almost 900 staff hours for the department since 2018, according to the October report.

An entry-level certified police officer in League City makes about $28.91 an hour, according to the department.

Investigations at the facility have included everything from rape and assault to missing person cases and intimidation, said Cory Beyer, a data analyst for the League City Police Department.

Officials with Texas Health and Human Services have evaluated more than 8,147 standards for compliance at the facility during the past five years and cited officials for 78 deficiencies, 41 of them weighted as high, according to a report.

Some of those high-risk deficiencies include exceeding the maximum time that employees can keep a student restrained in a supine position, not being aware and accountable of a student’s well-being and not adhering to a child’s right to be free of abuse, neglect and exploitation.

But Reed and other officials with the facility this week said matters have begun improving since they made several changes after the October incident.

Officials, for instance, have contracted with a private security company to ensure two guards remain on campus during each shift to oversee students, Reed said.

Officials also have added more supervisory staff during evenings, increased the number of directors on staff, reevaluated all students on campus and, on Nov. 10, hosted risk-management consultants to assess all buildings and recommend technology upgrades to increase safety, Reed said. Officials still are waiting to receive a comprehensive report on that visit.

“I think after that incident, we wanted to make sure everyone knew we were taking this seriously and that we would do everything we could to make sure the community and campus were safe,” Reed said.

There’s some evidence 2020 might be an improvement over previous highs in 2019.

Police investigations at the facility in 2020 declined to 60, down from the high of 98 in 2019, according to the League City report. But that’s still an increase from earlier numbers, such as about 13 a year as recently as 2017.

Devereux officials after October also said they offered to fund police positions for general city services. But Reed this week said she was having conversations with League City officials about that possibility, and it remained under consideration, though it hadn’t happened yet.

“My focus is on trying to eliminate the problems caused by having the drain on resources on a daily basis,” Ratliff said.

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