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After death of son, Overland Park mother applauds mental health training improvements

Posted at 7:03 PM, Nov 20, 2019
and last updated 2020-01-08 17:18:32-05

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Overland Park Police Chief Frank Donchez announced this week that Johnson County law enforcement recruits will now undergo nearly double the amount of state-required mental health training hours starting in 2020.

In a social media post on Tuesday, Donchez said the Johnson County Chiefs and Sheriffs Association voted to approve the change during a recent meeting.

Now, recruits for Johnson County law enforcement agencies will undergo 21 hours of mental health training that includes a focus on subjects like de-escalation and behavior management.

Previously, recruits underwent the Kansas requirement of 13 mental health training hours.

“The key is to keep officers and people safe,” said Ken Sissom, Johnson County Regional Police Academy director. “If they can identify that they may be struggling with some issue that we’ve had some training on how to deal with, they’re going to be able to treat them in a much better way.”

The announcement followed a push from residents like Sheila Albers, who lost her son in an officer-involved shooting in January 2018.

After her son, 17-year-old John Albers, posted suicidal thoughts online, officers rushed to his family’s home following calls from friends.

“As he hit his teen years, he started to struggle around emotional issues related to that,” she said. “The night John was killed, he had hit one of those low moments.”

Following the announcement of the extra mental health training hours, the mother applauded the decision.

“I feel it’s one of the best pieces of news I’ve had in well over two years,” she said. “There needs to be better training around mental health response and de-escalation.”

Over the past year and a half, Albers called for improvements to mental health training for police.

After attending meetings with local leaders and speaking about the need for change, she said the extra hours could possibly help prevent incidents similar to the one with her son from happening again.

“There was no reason that evening to use any sort of lethal force whatsoever,” she said. “We don’t have him here with us anymore and I want to make sure that his life is honored.”

The extra mental health training hours will begin with the next Johnson County Regional Police Academy recruiting class in January 2020.

While a district attorney ruled that the police officer was justified in using force, the Albers family won a $2.3 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city earlier this year.