OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — A Behavioral Health Unit is one step closer to becoming a reality for the Overland Park Police Department.
The Overland Park City Council approved on Monday the city's proposed 2022 budget, which includes a line item for an 11-member team that would be "dedicated to responding to mental health calls," according to Councilman Chris Newlin.
"This will consist of officers that will be highly trained in crisis intervention, and then we’ll have a co-responder who is a social worker with a masters degree from Johnson County that will be tagged with them," Newlin said. "They will be able to help them respond and get them the services that they need while they are in crisis here."
Newlin, chair of the Overland Park Mental Health Task Force, told 41 Action News that, on average, the police department responds to seven mental health calls per day, and this new unit would help better serve those calls.
"It’s about when there are mental health problems, not showing up with, you know, our guns necessarily, but showing up to have conversations, calm things down," Newlin said.
However, creation of the unit comes with a one-mill levy increase. The average Overland Park home is worth roughly $350,000, and homeowners would pay about $3.35 more each month, generating about $4.2 million dollars annually. Those funds also would help pay for more police officers, firefighters and cyber security personnel.
It's worth it, according to Sheila Albers, who knows the pain of losing a child. Her 17-year-old son, John, was shot and killed by an Overland Park police officer in 2018 during a welfare check.
"The officer who killed John was not a CIT trained officer," Albers said.
While she continues to grieve, Albers said she's hopeful the new unit will prevent another tragedy like hers from happening again.
"I wish it had happened five years ago, but we’re moving forward now and we’re looking for ways to save lives down the roads, ways to keep our police officers safe and our community safe," Albers said.
She also said she wants every officer in the department to go through crisis-intervention training.
A public hearing on the proposed budget will be held Sept. 13. City County and the mayor will vote on the final version of the budget Sept. 20.