The Overland Park Disaster Motion Group was able to develop final September from 5 members to 18.
However 9 months after the enlargement was authorisedtheir workforce, which incorporates cops and co-responders, continues to be incomplete with solely 10 individuals.
The six psychological well being co-responder positions are crammed with two current hires, however there are nonetheless solely 4 specifically educated cops on the workforce.
The workforce is a partnership between the Overland Park Police Division and the Johnson County Psychological Well being Division to reply to psychological well being calls with professionals educated in disaster intervention. The Overland Park Psychological Well being Process Drive advisable the enlargement final 12 months and the metropolis council voted 9-1 to approve the funds final September that included a rise in property taxes for the workforce. In addition they acquired practically $ 250,000 from the Division of Justice.
Their aim is to pair specifically educated officers with licensed psychological well being professionals to reply to psychological well being calls. Officers undergo disaster intervention coaching and likewise can do extra superior coaching for specialties like aged, juveniles, homelessness and negotiating.
The push for extra psychological well being initiatives within the county was partially due to the dying of a 17-year-old John Albers in 2018.
Former Overland Park police officer Clayton Jenison responded to Albers’ house after a number of 911 calls stated Albers was making an attempt to kill himself. Jenison fired 13 pictures and struck Albers six occasions whereas he was backing out of the driveway.
Johnson County District Lawyer Steve Howe cleared Jenison of any wrongdoing a month after the taking pictures, saying it was a justified use of power beneath Kansas legislation. After her son’s killing, Sheila Albers, who has been a powerful advocate for improved psychological well being assets, shaped JOCO United. The nonprofit has fought for plenty of reforms, together with requiring extra officers endure disaster intervention coaching, and including a co-responder to each shift.
OPCAT was created in 2013 with one disaster intervention workforce specialist and one Johnson County Psychological Well being Division co-responder. It grew to 2 CIT specialists and three co-responders in early 2021 earlier than being authorised to increase once more final September.
Tim DeWeese, director of the Johnson County Psychological Well being Heart, stated they’ve lately totally staffed the six co-responder positions, but additionally had some bother recruiting.
Why there’s a scarcity and what to do
It’s significantly tough to rent cops for the disaster motion workforce.
That is as a result of a brand new recruit not solely has to undergo common coaching, but additionally disaster intervention and specialty coaching, stated Capt. Jeff Burvee, the commander of the unit.
It additionally takes a particular sort of one who desires to exit to psychological well being calls, that are often lengthy and take quite a lot of persistence.
He stated that’s the reason they’re additionally recruiting people who find themselves already officers and might be part of the workforce extra shortly.
The Overland Park Police Division as an entire is recruiting officers, and Burvee stated their struggles are simply part of a nationwide staffing scarcity amongst legislation enforcement.
Meg Ralph, a spokesperson for Overland Park, additionally stated police chief Frank Donchez requested metropolis council within the proposed 2023 funds for $ 142,000 for the police cadet program and a further $ 18,000 for an internship enlargement program to assist develop the division.
That funds just isn’t authorised but, and the Overland Park Metropolis Council will assessment, contemplate, have public hearings and in the end vote on the funds on September 19.
Regardless of being so short-staffed, the workforce is operating seven days every week, and officers work 10 hour shifts, Burvee stated. To this point this 12 months, they’ve responded to only beneath 700 calls and have achieved about 440 follow-ups.
A big a part of what they do is comply with up with individuals after their preliminary calls to supply extra assets and get them the assistance they should keep away from extra crises, Burvee stated.
Burvee stated he hopes to rent three to 4 extra officers by the top of the 12 months.
Success since enlargement
Sgt. Stewart Introduced, who helped begin the workforce, stated his officers on the workforce are operating round all day doing all the things they will.
They can’t reply to each name, so when a daily patrol officer responds to what they assume is a psychological well being disaster, that officer calls the disaster motion workforce in. Introduced stated the aim is to take away patrol officers from these conditions and get their workforce in every time attainable.
The workforce is making a distinction, even when it is not at full capability but, stated Introduced. Their choice to place the CIT specialists in additional low-key uniforms and unmarked automobiles has helped make individuals which might be typically frequent callers extra snug.
He stated some individuals don’t want their neighbors or landlords to see police automobiles in entrance of their home for worry of getting evicted, and it has made callers extra welcoming of their assist. There have additionally been a number of situations the place individuals have refused to speak to recurrently uniformed patrol officers and as a substitute wished to speak to the extra casually dressed CIT specialists, Introduced stated.
A standout case that Introduced stated made different officers notice the significance of the workforce included a lady who was struggling at college and went to the principal’s workplace.
As she was leaving the workplace, she started self-harming and OPCAT was known as. They introduced the fallen remedy canine Haven, and the decision lasted over two hours, however Introduced stated their workforce calmed the lady down.
“It was the primary time she agreed to hunt remedy, and she or he’d by no means achieved that earlier than,” Introduced stated.
He stated that’s the reason it’s vital to have a workforce that’s not pressured to deal with a name shortly and transfer onto the subsequent like patrol officers.
Different psychological well being disaster groups
When creating Overland Park’s workforce, Introduced stated final September that they checked out different departments throughout the state and nation, together with Olathe’s.
Olathe’s Superior Disaster Intervention Group is the same dimension to Overland Park’s proper now, and has grown to a few officers, three full time co-responders and one half time co-responder since 2021. Sgt. Logan Bonney stated they’ve lately been authorised so as to add two extra officers to the workforce, however that can take a while as a result of they’re ready till patrol staffing will increase barely.
As soon as the division hires extra officers, these can apply to be on their disaster intervention workforce and, if authorised, undergo extra specialised coaching too.