Omaha police to expand mental health therapist deployment

Mental Wellness Wednesday

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A pilot program that stationed a mental health therapist in an Omaha police precinct will be expanded to every precinct, officials said.

The primary goal: Decrease the instances of officers taking into custody people struggling with mental health issues. Officials also hope to connect people to the services they require and reduce the number of times officers must respond to people and their mental health crises.

“We know that we have a lot of folks in our community that may be struggling with mental health, and sometimes there’s not enough resources for those folks,” said Omaha Deputy Police Chief Michele Bang. She told the Omaha World-Herald that therapists will have the skill set “to talk to them and get them to settle and be cooperative and get them into services as opposed to corrections or an arrest scenario.”

The department has had one therapist based at the southwest precinct. Another is scheduled to begin work Wednesday in the northwest precinct. The department hopes by the end of the year to have hired a third therapist and a mental health coordinator, then two more therapists in 2020.

The therapists are also known as co-responders. Having them at each precinct can help all officers who interact with the public, Bang said.

Many of the mental health-related calls are not emergencies. They include handling requests to check the well-being of someone or answering a complaint about hoarding or an unkempt yard. The circumstances could be indicators of someone’s mental illness. The co-responders can review call responses to determine which tactics worked and provide advice and training.

Officials “at least know anecdotally” that the pilot program has worked, Bang said.

And it’s beneficial for the officers, too, she said: “These are stressful calls.”

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