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Cedar Rapids looks to hire second law enforcement mental health liaison

(KCRG)
Published: Oct. 16, 2019 at 4:54 PM CDT
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Cedar Rapids Police are trying more ways to get people with mental illnesses the help they need rather than putting them in jail.

The department is partnering with Foundation 2, a nonprofit crisis prevention group, to hire a law enforcement liaison. It’s building off of current programming that started in 2018.

Sgt. Chris Bieber meets with Nicole Watters, a law enforcement liaison that helps people who are in a mental health crisis, on a regular basis to find out just how many people she's serving.

“If there's a call she needs to go out on, dispatch will call her and she can go out with officers if she wants to, she can go out by herself if she wants, as long as it's safe,” Bieber said.

Bieber is part of the team that came up with the idea for this program.

"The hospitals, the judges all the kinds of people work together," Bieber said. "Our current liaison has been able to make that connection and bring everyone together so we can work easier together."

Doing so decreases the number of times officers respond to one particular person, and it allows that person can get the professional help they need.

"She will assess for suicide risk if that's a concern; what supports are needed, what background there might be with mental health or substance abuse,” Sarah Nelson-Miller, Foundation 2 Operations Manager, said.

Police officials said the program connected 247 people to resources in its first year. Based on that success, the department applied for a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to add a second liaison in an attempt to decrease a revolving door through the criminal justice system.

"They're in crisis, they get charged with disorderly conduct or something like that, they go to jail, they're released and then there's another call for service,” Nelson-Miller said.

Mental health professionals and officers hope this increases community safety.

“Because we're able to address the root cause of what is causing people to go into crisis in the first time,” Nelson-Miller said.

The need is there since Bieber said he's seeing more mental health emergencies while on patrol.

Foundation 2 and police hope to have the new person on the job in the next six months. They hope this will allow the liaisons to do more follow up, instead of just responding to a crisis.