Overland Park plans to bring on mental health experts with police, helping people in crisis

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. – In the wake of the deadly police shooting of a teenager three years ago, Overland Park took a big step toward putting mental health workers on the front lines with police.

On Monday evening, the Overland Park City Council voted unanimously to fund mental health experts to help police on active crime scenes. All 11 council members voted in favor of spending an additional $4 million from next year’s city budget, giving police officers specialized co-workers who can be called to help people in crisis.

“This helps us move on from the John Albers shooting,” said council member Chris Newlin, who led the council’s research into helping police confront mental health crises.

In 2018, an officer shot and killed 17-year-old John Albers as he was backing an vehicle out of his family’s driveway. Officers went to his home to check on the teenager when he told friends he wanted to end his life.

“We want these guys highly trained, which they will be in crisis intervention, and be able to talk people down and talk people out of things that could harm themselves,” Newlin said Tuesday.

The community demanded action from the city after Albers’ death. This $4 million commitment also pays for 40 hours of mandatory crisis intervention training for all Overland Park officers. Johnson County’s Mental Health Center already trains and places co-responders for seven police departments in Johnson County.

“You’ll see fewer transportations to the ER. You’ll see fewer bookings into the jail. You’ll see less time spent by law enforcement officers on those situations,” said Tim DeWeese, JOCO Mental Health Center director.

City council member Dr. Faris Farassati is in favor of this plan, but he’s concerned about raising property taxes to do it. Farassati, who’s also running for Overland Park mayor, hopes the council will resist raising property taxes to pay for this.

“I, as a medical researcher, am very aware of the priorities of mental healthcare task force,” Farassati said. “What we are asking is better research toward ways to fund this task force instead of simply raising property taxes.”

The city council is also asking for residents’ input. Farassati said he isn’t comfortable moving forward without public comment. That will come a public hearing on Sept. 13. A vote on the project is expected on Sept. 20.

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