Response to call for volunteers for Overland Park mental health task forces has been ‘overwhelming’

Overland Park City Councilman Chris Newlin will be leading the city's new mental health task force.

Response has been “overwhelming” to a call for volunteers to serve on an Overland Park task force on mental health, Councilmember Chris Newlin said Monday.

Some 23 applications have come in for five positions on the task force, which was launched about two weeks ago. In fact, Newlin said he would like to add two or three positions to include more people who want to serve. “We want to make sure we have a very robust task force,” Newlin said.

The advisory group is being formed to study the mental health needs of the community and barriers to meeting those needs. It was approved partly in response to Sheila Albers’ request for more transparency in city police forces and better mental health services. She formed an advocacy group, JOCO United, after her son was John killed in a police shooting two years ago. John had suffered ADHD and mood fluctuations. Police fired at his car as he rolled out of the driveway.

The applications will close March 10 then will go on to Mayor Carl Gerlach for appointment recommendations. Because there are so many, it may be April 6 before the task force is set, but Newlin said he thinks that will still be enough time for the group to make a few recommendations in time for the 2021 budget year. The original plan was for the participants to be appointed March 16.

The task force is supposed to include a diverse group, with representatives from JOCO United, another advocacy group, plus legal, first responders and mental health experts. Once it’s up and running, the group will seek public input through email and public hearings.

Albers had worked for more attention to focus on how police crisis teams respond to someone with mental health issues and that is expected to be a topic the task force will examine.

The group will meet monthly for about a year and a half.