OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — A dramatic rescue from Tuesday afternoon saw a police officer save a woman’s life.
Mental health professionals in Johnson County point to it as evidence that law enforcement officers need specialized crisis intervention training.
Overland Park Police Officer Brett Ussary is trained to handle calls that involve people who intend to harm themselves. One such call came on Tuesday, when a woman told dispatchers she wanted to die.
“Everything’s racing at that time,” Ussary said Wednesday.
Video from a city traffic camera at 87th Street and 69 Highway shows why the officer was on high alert. The video shows that woman climb onto a walkway near the highway overpass with the intention of jumping from the bridge. Ussary sprang from his police cruiser, and pulled the crying woman to safety.
“She looked back at me, and then, looked the other way toward the fence, and started climbing,” Ussary told FOX4. “I just reacted to her climbing the fence and her putting a leg on it. I jumped and grabbed her.”
That lifesaving move allowed the woman to seek the mental health treatment she needs. One of Overland Park Police’s three mental health co-responders was also called to the scene. Johnson County’s Mental Health Department now has 11 experts assigned to police departments, all of whom are trained to intervene in crises.
Overland Park Police Chief Frank Donchez now supports crisis intervention training for all officers. Last summer, the city committed to pay for every officer on the force to get that focused training. The shift happened, in part, due to the activism of JOCO United, a community activist group, which formed after an Overland Park officer shot and killed 17-year-old John Albers in 2018.
The teenager was suffering from a mental health crisis at the time of that incident.
“We have a mental health task force that was formed last year. We’ve been working the past year with them. They’ve come up with some fantastic recommendations that will come to light as they approach city council in the coming months,” Donchez said.
The relationships between law enforcement agencies and mental health responders is getting stronger, according to Tim DeWeese, who directs the Johnson County Mental Health Center.
DeWeese said for the moment, the county has filled its regiment of co-responders. DeWeese said co-responders now cover all of Johnson County, except for Gardner-Edgerton and Spring Hill, and he’s working to get them included before the end of 2021.
Right now, almost half of Overland Park’s police officers have received intervention training. The city’s mental health task force wants all of them trained by the end of the year. Donchez agrees, saying that includes him.
If you are thinking of hurting or killing yourself, you can call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). Please get help immediately.