OPD reports success in utilizing mental-health specialists on emergency calls

Published: Aug. 19, 2020 at 6:18 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - It’s a problem engulfing the Omaha-metro area: The number of police reports involving mental-health incidents is exploding, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic — and Omaha Police are the first responders.

But they are not the only responders.

It is the great unknown for police officers: Not knowing whether they are responding to a call where mental-health issues are occurring.

Figures compiled by OPD and city leaders show officers respond to 15,000-20,000 calls each year involving some type of mental-health concern.

“There’s a lot of mental health crises going on in the community,” said Lindsay Kroll, a mental-health coordinator working with the Omaha Police Co-Responders Program.

Those co-responders are licensed mental-health therapists embedded in OPD precincts, she said. “Their job is to provide intervention for individuals that are in some kind of mental-health crisis.”

Schmaderer talked about the program during Tuesday’s City Council meeting as an example of ways the department has been evolving its tactical methods.

“No two calls are the same, but they start to get a feel for what calls they can be effective with so obviously suicide is a call that they would respond to,” Kroll said.

Jason Heft with OPD’s Behavior Health and Wellness Unit says 300 of Omaha’s 900 officers have received training in dealing with mental-health issues. He says training is continual.

“We are pairing officers with our co-responders and those officers are specially trained officers that have some special training with mental health,” Heft said.

The partnership continues to evolve, he said.

“Being able to have that resource available to law enforcement in the immediacy of the crisis for the consumer or the person in the community,” Heft said. “It’s a magical combination to help people get well and help them get connected to get their needs met appropriately.”

Kroll said the program is successful but that there is a need for more mental-health workers and facilities due to the sheer number of calls.

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