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JOCO United, formed after police shooting, to ask OP for public safety advisory board

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A Johnson County civic group formed in the wake of a police officer’s fatal shooting of a teenager last year is preparing to ask Overland Park to give residents a larger voice in issues of public safety.

Johnson County United, which advocates for improvements in mental health and law enforcement, is asking the city to create a public safety citizens advisory board.

JOCO United will make its request at an Overland Park Public Safety Committee meeting Wednesday evening.

Although the meeting will be focused on mental health issues in public safety, the proposed advisory board would provide input on all issues of public safety, said JoCo United secretary Sheila Albers.

Shiela Albers helped organize JOCO United after an Overland Park police officer shot and killed her 17-year-old son John Albers as the teenager backed a van down the driveway of his parents’ home. The family later settled a lawsuit with the city for $2.3 million.

“We feel there is a bit of a disconnect between the public safety committee for the city and the general public,” Albers said.

Overland Park Police Department dashcam footage of the fatal officer-involved shooting of 17-year-old John Albers. WARNING: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT.

The proposed advisory board, Albers said, is a way to correct that. Many cities around the country have similar advisory boards.

The board would be able to provide recommendations for public policy, review the success of those policies and propose surveys and town halls to garner additional citizen input, according to a draft charter prepared by JoCo United.

Overland Park Police Chief Frank Donchez said he is open to the idea of the advisory board, as long as it does not have any regulatory power over the department.

“I think the word advisory is key because we’re law enforcement professionals, we have training in our field,” Donchez said. “While I’m open to advice I have to cull through that advice to understand what’s feasible.”

He said there are already advisory boards on other issues concerning the police department and that the elected officials in the public safety committee are meant to represent the interests of citizens.

Overland Park has recently been criticized for limiting what members of the public can speak about at city council meetings.

Albers said members of the public often aren’t allowed to speak at all at committee hearings, making it difficult for their voices to be heard.

“There is information that doesn’t seem to be getting to the public safety committee,” Albers said. “There doesn’t seem to be any citizen input on particular policies.”

At Wednesday’s meeting Johnson County United will also propose the city increase de-escalation mental health training for new recruits, increase the number of experienced officers with crisis intervention training and provide more transparent information on mental health resources on city websites.

Donchez said he is “one hundred percent supportive” of those measures.

He said Wednesday’s meeting is meant to inform committee members and the public of mental health issues in Johnson County.

Donchez said Johnson County and Overland Park are ahead of many other communities in mental health training and response.

“I don’t think the public fully understands how far along Johnson County and more specifically Overland Park Police Department are when it comes to addressing mental health issues,” Donchez said. “I understand that we can always improve and I’m willing to do that and I’m all for that. I think the misconception is that we are somehow deficient, when we’re not. We’re leading the way in mental health.”

The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Overland Park City Hall. There will be speakers from the Overland Park Police Department, the Overland Park Fire Department, members of the Johnson County Co-responder team, the Johnson County Mental Health Center and Johnson County United.

BEHIND OUR REPORTING

How we did this story

Shiela Albers of JOCO United reached out to a Star reporter with information about Wednesday’s meeting and the organization’s requests. The reporter interviewed her and Overland Park Police Chief Frank Donchez. The Star has been following the story of the Albers family since the Jan. 20, 2018, shooting.

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Katie Bernard covers Kansas crime, cops and courts for the Kansas City Star. She joined the Star in May of 2019. Katie studied journalism and political science at the University of Kansas.
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