Northeast Johnson County cities looking to bring on mental health expert to assist in police calls

Jay Senter - January 20, 2016 8:00 am

Prairie Village police

Seven northeast Johnson County law enforcement agencies are collaborating on a program that would bring a full-time mental health professional on board to assist with police calls where mental health issues or substance abuse appear to be exacerbating the situation.

Prairie Village Police Chief Tim Schwartzkopf told the city council on Monday that his department was in talks with Leawood, Mission, Merriam, Fairway, Westwood and Roeland Park about how to split the cost for a new mental health co-responder among the departments. (Prairie Village police provide service to Mission Hills as well).

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The co-responder, who would be employed by Johnson County Mental Health, would provide support to local police departments, which have seen mental health-related calls put increasing strain on their resources in recent years as budget cuts have reduced available mental health services.

“As you all know, funding in the state for mental health is not increasing — in fact it’s decreasing,” Schwartzkopf said. “I don’t think there’s a week that goes by when I don’t get some kind of communication from the state about the crisis we are having with mental health funding.”

Schwartzkopf told the council that the program has been a success in other cities where it has been implemented, including Overland Park and Olathe. Expected benefits include a reduction in the number of people booked into county jail and more efficient use of department time and resources, Schwartzkopf said.

The program will cost the departments $91,000 per year. At present, the cities are exploring a cost-sharing arrangement based on population. That split would leave Prairie Village with a responsibility to pay just over $22,000 for the first year of service.

Schwartzkopf said the department was exploring using proceeds from the city’s alcohol tax to pay for at least half of the cost.

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