Local government

The Belton City Council voted 5-0 Tuesday to approve an interagency contract with the University of North Texas at Dallas for the creation of a regional law enforcement peer network — a program Belton Police Chief Gene Ellis believes will help his and other agencies’ personnel process “critical incidents.”

Councilmen Guy O’Banion and John Holmes were both absent from the meeting. 

“The number of law enforcement officers who have died by suicide has nearly doubled over the past couple of years,” Ellis said in a city of Belton staff report. “Police officers are regularly exposed to trauma by witnessing critical incidents as part of their work duties. This can cause mental health conditions including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Ellis, who also serves as Belton’s assistant city manager, highlighted how the 87th Texas Legislature worked to recognize this “crisis in public safety” through Senate Bill 64 — bipartisan legislation that directed the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement to develop the network.

“TCOLE … contracted with the Caruth Police Institute at (UNT) Dallas to administer the Texas Law Enforcement Peer Network,” the Belton Police chief said. “Caruth has determined the most effective way to carry out the mission of the peer support network is by establishing regional hubs.”

There will be three funded hubs, three in-kind hubs and a state office at the Caruth Police Institute.

Of those three funded hubs, the Belton Police Department will cover the Central/Eastern Region, the Irving Police Department will cover the North Region and the Pharr Police Department will cover the Valley/Southern Region, according to the Caruth Police Department.

“Regional hubs will be provided funding to hire a full-time staff member to serve as a regional director for the Texas Law Enforcement Peer Network,” Ellis said. “This coordinator will be responsible for recruiting and training volunteer peers in the region, recruiting retired law enforcement professionals for the peer support hotline, promoting the (peer hailing and wellness) app, responding to requests on the app for our region, and keeping statistics on peer support activities in the region.”

This position, which is currently funded for two years, includes annual costs for a $63,000 salary, $2,000 for materials and supplies, and $2,500 for work-related travel, according to the city of Belton.

“We brag about the Belton Police Department all the time and this just shows you that we’re not the only ones that appreciate what y’all are doing,” Belton Mayor Wayne Carpenter said during the meeting. “Thank you for bringing this to us and congratulations for being selected as one of the few (hubs) in the state of Texas.”