Editorial: Co-response team a smart move

The development of a co-response team to help in incidents involving law enforcement and individuals with mental health issues is a welcome move.

The co-response team, launched in June, comprises three individuals — Susan Hadl, who works for Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, and two Lawrence police officers — working to de-escalate incidents involving individuals with mental health concerns. The co-response team takes charge of a scene when called to crisis situations and attempts to talk the individual in crisis into voluntarily entering treatment.

The team also visits those with whom they have had contact in the past, visits people who may have sought treatment in the Lawrence Memorial Hospital emergency room the previous night or initiates contact with those referred to the team by family members, police officers or service agencies. The purpose of the visits is to check on the well-being of the people and help them make positive choices.

Sgt. Ryan Halsted, who oversees the officers assigned to the co-response team, said the program was about solving problems for those with mental health issues.

“We’re looking at those high-volume consumers. They may be going to the emergency room but not getting the follow-up they need,” he said. “If we can bridge that gap and give them that warm handoff, we hope to get them connected to services before they make that next visit to the emergency room or find themselves in jail.”

The response team’s organizational and funding structure was modeled in part after the operating teams in Johnson County. Multiple response teams have sprung up there since the city of Olathe introduced the first grant-funded team in 2011. Response teams now operate in Overland Park, Lenexa, Shawnee and through a partnership of 10 northeast county cities. In addition, Johnson County Med-Act, which provides emergency medical response countywide, now has a response team.

The success of the program in Overland Park was evaluated in a report Alex Holsinger, of the University of Missouri — Kansas City’s Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, completed for the city. The report looks at the outcomes of the Overland Park Police Department’s calls involving individuals with mental health issues for 2012 and 2013, which was the first year for the city’s response team. Holsinger found that incidents identified as mental health calls increased from 513 in 2012 to 773 in 2013.

Holsinger found that in 2012, 35.1 percent of the department’s mental health calls resulted in hospital emergency room referrals. Emergency room deferrals decreased to 3.2 percent in 2013. The percentage of Overland Park Police Department mental health calls that resulted in an arrest declined from 8.4 percent in 2012 to 1.8 percent in 2013, according to the study.

The co-response team in Lawrence is a proactive move that will benefit Lawrence residents and the police department. Getting individuals the help they need, beyond arrest and incarceration, makes Lawrence a better community.