NEJC cities move toward adding support of mental health specialist for police calls

Jay Senter - June 9, 2016 11:00 am
Leawood would assume financial responsibility for around a third of the cost of the new program.
Leawood would assume financial responsibility for around a third of the cost of the new program.

Ten northeast Johnson County cities are taking steps to formalize a joint agreement that will provide their police departments with a trained specialist to assist officers on calls where mental health may be exacerbating a situation.

Prairie Village’s city council on Monday became the latest governing body to give tacit approval to a program that would split the $95,000 cost of a full-time mental health co-responder among the ten cities. The costs born by each city are calculated by population. Leawood, for example, would bear the cost for approximately $34,000 of the program. Prairie Village, with the second highest population in the area, would shoulder $22,000.

Similar programs in Overland Park and Olathe serves as the model for the NEJC cities’ proposal, which would make a trained mental health specialist available to accompany police departments on calls.

Prairie Village Mayor Laura Wassmer noted Monday that it’s “literally every day” that city officers are called to respond to a situation where someone’s deteriorating mental health – depression, anxiety, substance misuse and other disorders — pose a challenge to police. The new co-responder would work during the hours that mental health-related calls come in most frequently, and would be available to assist any of the departments.

Prairie Village Police Chief Tim Scharwartzkopf said he expects the cities to bring the new co-responder on board in the fourth quarter of this year. In PV, the cost of the program would be paid for primarily through proceeds from the city’s alcohol tax.

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