Mental health program expands in Johnson County

JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. -- When it comes to mental health calls police are often the first responders, but despite some training, officers don't specialize in those types of issues. 

That's why Johnson County is expanding a program that dispatched trained professionals with officers on mental health calls. 

The trained professionals are called co-responders. 

Nancy Eubank's granddaughter has been dealing with mental health issues for a while now. 

Recently Eubank called Leawood Police to come help when her granddaughter was having a mental health crisis. 

"I called them and the CIT person came out," said Eubank. 

The CIT, or Crisis Intervention Team, includes police officers with special training and a co-responder. 

The program is something Olathe, Overland Park, Lenexa, Shawnee and a portion of Northeast Johnson County already have, but its new this year to Leawood. 

"As a crisis intervention team trained officer you have knowledge on how to recognize mental illness and how to de-escalate a situation so no one gets hurt," said Corporal Ken Whiteside of Leawood Police Department and Chairman of the Kansas Law Enforcement Crisis Intervention Teams Council. 

But once the officer gets the situation under control, the matter of what to do next can be a challenge. 

"At the end when everything is calm you still have to determine what can we do to help this person... and often as officers, our ability to help only goes as far as what the law allows us to do," said Whiteside. 

If the person is still a danger to others or themselves, police will bring them to the emergency room or to jail, which is often not the best options. 

"Jail serves a purpose. It's there to keep a dangerous person from committing a crime or from hurting someone. It's not there to give mental health treatment," said Jessica Murphy, Johnson County Co-Responder Supervisor. 

That's where the co-responder comes in. 

"If we have a co-responder on the scene with the officer, we can come up with treatment options, referral sources, and keep that individual out of jail, or in their home getting the right treatment they need," said Murphy. 

So far the program is working. 
This year alone, co-responders have assisted nearly 150 people with getting the mental health services they need, including Eubank's granddaughter. 

"I praise them for their work," said Eubank. 

Eubank believes if it wasn't for the trained professional, her granddaughter may have ended up in juvenile detention. 

"But it's okay, she ended up getting the treatment that she needed," said Eubank. 

Keeping her in her home instead of in a system where she doesn't belong. 

The program started in Olathe and has expanded to several cities in Johnson County. 

The Crisis Intervention Team Council is looking at adding a co-responder to the Johnson County Sheriff's Department next.