Government & Politics

Northeast Joco cities consider adding mental health pro

A group of northeast Johnson County cities wants to give their police officers better resources when answering calls involving suicide attempts, substance abuse or other mental health issues.

The cities of Leawood, Prairie Village, Mission, Merriam, Fairway, Westwood and Roeland Park are considering a proposal to contract with Johnson County Mental Health to provide a mental health professional for the group. This professional, called a “co-responder,” would be available to accompany officers on calls at any time of day.

“This program assists us with difficult calls for service,” Prairie Village Police Chief Tim Schwartzkopf told his city council members Tuesday night, adding that his department averages around 120 mental health calls a year. “Although we are pretty close to having all of our patrol officers and field personnel trained in crisis intervention training, we are not professional mental health workers.”

Schwartzkopf said that besides helping defuse mental health crises at the scene, the co-responder would review police reports, provide mental health referrals and coordinate care for the people involved. He or she could work with families in need and help prevent incidents from escalating into crimes, reducing stress on the city jail. Also, a live co-responder would be more effective than relying on a professional reached by telephone, which Schwartzkopf said officers have had to use in the past.

The cost for the program is estimated at around $91,000 a year with the cities proposing to chip in based on population. With roughly 24 percent of the group’s population, Prairie Village’s share would be around $22,000, Schwartzkopf said.

He said at least half of that amount could come from existing taxes the city collects on alcohol sales — a natural link given how often substance abuse is tied with mental health episodes.

Schwartzkopf said the police departments were a ways from hammering out an agreement and were continuing to discuss logistics, such as which city has priority if more than one mental health call happens at once.

“I think this could be a pretty fluid program,” Schwartzkopf said. “If it’s too much for one person they can come back and tell us.”

Overland Park already has a co-responder and is considering a second because of need, he said.

Councilwoman Sheila Myers said she was in favor of the program, especially given the struggles the Kansas mental health system has had in the last few years treating the mentally ill and providing other services.

“I think it’s really unfortunate that the state has cut back so severely on that,” Myers said.

In other business:

▪ The council voted unanimously to ask Johnson County for a Stormwater Management Advisory Council grant to help renovate and expand the ponds on the former Meadowbrook Golf and Country Club. If the application is successful, the ponds could be redesigned to better hold stormwater runoff, preventing flooding on 95th Street and farther south.

Developers are planning to build a senior center and a mix of single-family lots, luxury apartments, twin-home units, and a boutique hotel on the development with the city buying 84 acres on the north side of the property for a public park. City officials said that any additional funding for the ponds would free up other dollars for developing the park faster.

▪ Council members considered a number of options for renovating the front patio and courtyard between City Hall and the Police Department as well as improving accessibility for the disabled. The options include raising the level of the central courtyard, installing new ramps and adding fountains or sculpture gardens.

Costs for the project range from $740,000 to rebuild the existing courtyard up to more than $814,000 for extensive renovations to the entire area.

City officials noted they budgeted less than $500,000 for the design and construction work. Council members asked staff and architects to come back with plans showing how much construction they could accomplish within the original budget.

David Twiddy: