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Kearney law enforcement agencies start mental health response program

Kearney Police Department.
Kearney Police Department.(Diamond Nunnally (KSNB))
Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 7:05 PM CDT
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KEARNEY, Neb. (KSNB) - With law enforcement agencies responding to mental health calls even more during the pandemic, a grant from the federal government is helping them better handle these situations.

The Buffalo County Sheriff and the Kearney Police Department (KPD) have been working together for the last year to start up the Co-Responder Program. It’s where they’ve partnered with Region 3 Behavioral Health for training on how to deal with and provide assistance during mental health crisis calls.

“There are models across the the United States that have already implemented similar programs that have been successful, so it just seemed like a next step for us and a collaborative team effort came together to get it done and we’re pretty excited about it.”

Both agencies have been wanting to do this for some time but just haven’t had the money to do it. Now with the Community Policing Development Grant of $250,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice and $50,000 from the Medica Foundation, they will be able to provide on-scene care for people suffering with mental illnesses and behavioral health issues.

“It’s a commitment from both agencies to want to be able to do this because it complicates things a little more, but in a good way it will give us results that will help the public,” said Buffalo County Sheriff Neil Miller.

Region 3 Behavioral Health will be in charge of designating therapists to train and assist law enforcement officers during calls.

“We’ll also help de-escalate situations and just provide safety to people when they need it the most,” said Region 3 Emergency Systems Specialist Beth Reynolds - Lewis.

Nebraska is one of the only few states that give police officers the authority to send someone into emergency protective custody where they are either put into a psychiatric facility or jail for evaluation against their will.

“We want to reduce the number of Emergency Protective Custodies that are taking place, certainly we want to reduce the number of people who go to jail because of a mental health crisis, so these are all things that we feel that this is going to help us better fulfill services to the public,” Sheriff Miller said.

KPD and the Sheriff’s Office received the grant this week and have got a long way to go before they can get the program up and running. They did say the beauty of it all is that they’ve at least got it started.

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