Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar introduced Brandi Burque, the sheriff’s office’s first full-time staff psychologist in nearly 30 years, at a press conference Monday.
Burque’s hiring follows a spike in Bexar County Sheriff’s Office arrests last year. In 2018, 26 sheriff’s department employees were arrested for various offenses, including DWI and domestic violence. Of the total arrested, 23 were deputies and three were civilian employees.
Law enforcement officers work hard for their community, Burque said. That work, be it in the field or in the county jail, involves stress that can bleed into personal and family lives, triggering alcohol abuse and domestic issues. But Salazar told reporters he did not hire Burque due to “pressure” from the rise in officer misconduct.
“I wouldn’t call it pressure,” he said. “I knew how to fix the problems. If you’re building a home, you know what tools you need. The problem is the tools didn’t exist here. … I knew we needed to give ourselves tools in the toolbox. It was as simple as going to the County commissioners and presenting the need in an articulate manner that would allow them to give us what we need.”
Salazar said County commissioners allocated $116,000 in the last budget cycle to hire Burque. He promised to bolster Burque’s work with additional resources as she determines her needs.
Burque, who holds a doctorate in clinical psychology, comes from the San Antonio Police Department, where she pioneered a health and wellness program for law enforcement officers called the Performance and Recovery Optimization program, or PRO.
Her police psychology training and experience helps her understand health and wellness in law enforcement, she said. For example, she trains officers to recognize stress they may face in the job and how it impacts their health and performance.
“This will give them the opportunity to work better, feel better, and have a strong family life as well,” she said.
Burque will be counseling employees of the sheriff’s office, as well as assisting with high-risk negotiations in the field and new employee screening. Burque said she’s aware of the high numbers of arrests, but is undaunted by her new responsibilities.
“There’s no challenge that’s too big,” she said.
“The fact that you have so many people willing to work on [the problem] and not deny it is huge,” Burque said.
Before Burque was hired, sheriff’s department applicants were given a psychological test that was then reviewed by a psychologist at University Hospital, Salazar said. Now, Burque will screen applicants.
“To be a police psychologist, you bring a different skill set to it, you bring a different set of eyes to something like that,” Salazar said. “While it was okay what we were doing before, I’m excited to have dedicated person on staff, a law enforcement psychologist.”
Officers in officer-involved shootings are required to talk to the staff psychologist, Salazar said. All employees of the sheriff’s office can ask Burque for counseling, and the department is forming an early-intervention program that will enlist the help of a board of deputies and civilian staffers to identify warning signs and deter serious incidents.
“Maybe it’s somebody that’s been involved in a couple of use-of-force incidents where we haven’t necessarily found anything wrong, but this deputy is using force at a higher rate that may trigger the necessity to have a second look at them, [go] a little deeper,” Salazar said. “We’ll bring them in front of the board. One of the things the board may decide [is] maybe the officer has to talk to the psychologist to be cleared.”
Salazar said he had not yet decided how he will determine whether having a psychologist makes a difference. Fewer arrests of Bexar County sheriff’s department employees would certainly indicate progress, he said.
“I wish I could wave a magic wand and say no one from the sheriff’s office is ever going to get in trouble,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll ever achieve zero arrests. It’ll be a continuing process. I’m certainly willing to put the work in.”