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Transcript of JoCo on the Go podcast 09/23/2019

Announcer: [00:01] Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything. Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home

Theresa Freed: [00:14] Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host Teresa Freed, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. Today we're talking about a critical group involved in mental health and law enforcement response in Johnson County. It's known as the Crisis Intervention Team and to provide us more on that, I'm joined by Officer Justin Shepherd with the Overland Park Police Department. Thanks for being here. Thank you very much for having me. All right. Just to start off with, can you tell us what exactly is this team and how did it get started here in Johnson County?

Justin Shepherd: [00:44] Well, specifically in Overland park and most of the agencies in the Johnson County area, the CIT team is a Crisis Intervention Team. It's a collaboration between law enforcement and mental health agencies and groups to be able to find the best way to respond to individuals who are going through crisis. And that includes not only just stabilizing them in the moment, but finding ways to be able to coordinate treatment outside the incident as well. And as a member of the Johnson County law enforcement CIT council, the council was originally started back in 2004 where they took a model of CIT from Memphis, Tennessee that already been established since 1988 and realized that that was going to be an ideal model to utilize here in the County. And after the formation of the council, they started in 2005 starting training law enforcement officers and other members of the community in that CIT response. And that way the programs started to pop up in the individual agencies. So officers started to become trained in this idea and this concept, which really focuses on building those relationships.

Theresa Freed: [01:43] Okay. And can you talk a little bit about what is the, the work that they're doing together? What's that collaboration look like?

Justin Shepherd: [01:49] The collaboration starts off with a standard call for service where officers would be dispatched to see whether or not it's a random party calling on what they observe of from an individual or an altercation, whether or not it's a loved one or a family member is calling about the incident. When officers arrive, they either already have a couple of notes or ideas that this might be something related to a mental or behavioral health crisis or they might show up and depending on their experiences and on the training that they received through the program, they may be able to recognize and identify some of those aspects. And when that becomes apparent, they usually have policies and guidelines in place to reach out to mental health, primarily Johnson County Mental Health, to be able to get clinician's advice on how best be able to handle that situation.

Theresa Freed: [02:37] Okay. The, the relationship is pretty critical -- the communication between mental health and law enforcement. So when you're in that sort of immediate situation, how do you, how do you work together quickly?

Justin Shepherd: [02:51] The best way to work through it quickly is largely resources. Whenever we have situations where an individual is identified as going through a point crisis, we know it's going to be something that can't just be handled by a single officer on scene. So when you ever have two or more officers are going to be a part of it. While some of the officers are working on stabilizing and calming things down, another officer or the supervisor who's available can reach out and start communicating with Johnson County Mental Health through their 24 hour crisis hotline or even better through the multiple co-responders that we have working in the County. And by that communication with those co-responders or with the mental health crisis line, we can either establish what might be best practices for that specific individual, especially if they're known, if they've already gone through services with Johnson County Mental Health or to just be able to express what we are seeing on scene so that the clinicians can help identify what that next step needs to look like. And when I mentioned that it's going to be even better if a co-responder is available. They are the ones who are embedded with the police departments to be able to respond to the scene and actually do their own face to face assessment of the situation and they can identify what the next recommendation might be or the path that they need to take.

Theresa Freed: [03:57] Okay. So I guess big picture, what's, what's the purpose of this and, and why is it so important?

Justin Shepherd: [04:02] The most important aspect of it is to make sure that everybody on scene remains safe cause that's the one thing that we're always concerned about is making sure that it's going to be a safe interaction between the individual going through crisis and law enforcement. Because we bring a lot of tools and equipment when we show up on scene. But then it's also not just that initial stabilization. It's making sure that we can find something that might be a solution for the individual or at least the next step that either they or their loved ones can go through. And that's where the collaboration, the communication comes in because we can start working with treatment teams, exploring different opportunities that may not even be related to the mental health center but might be more private services that the family or loved ones are used to using or something that might actually work for the position better than what we have here in the County.

Theresa Freed: [04:44] So why is it beneficial to keep individuals with mental illness out of the justice system?

Justin Shepherd: [04:51] It's better for the individual because that way you don't continue with traumatizing the individual with that experience because we all understand that incarceration and jail time is not a way to be able to help somebody going through crisis, especially if that crisis is related to any form of trauma. You want to make sure you that you don't retraumatize the individual. So it's very ideal to be able to keep them out of that to something that's going to be more catered to keep them on a road for recovery or at least a way to be able to cut down on recidivism. And that'll start decreasing calls for service, which will free up officers for other situations that they can deal with on the street or during a normal day.

Theresa Freed: [05:24] Okay. And I have the, the fortune of being able to sit through some of the training that you all go through to prepare for this. And it's pretty intensive. You have some really great guest speakers who come in and you get every angle of what you need to know. It seems like, can you talk a little bit about what the law enforcement are learning through that process?

Justin Shepherd: [05:49] The 40 hour basic CIT training course is really a wonderful collaboration between multiple agencies. We are very fortunate to have multiple groups are willing to have individuals come by and present in different sections of the class. Usually each section is about an hour or sometimes a couple of hours depending on the topic and can cover the wide range of what happens during an involuntary committal. What happens whenever you want to recommend community outreach resources, what you might be able to recommend for individuals going through specific types of crisis. A little bit of identification, but we understand that the main focus, we're not going through this training to become clinicians. We're going through this training to be able to get a better idea of the tools out there that we're going to be able to utilize during these interactions. And it all culminates with about a day and a half at the end that focuses on deescalation techniques and how to interact with somebody who is going through crisis to try and make that interaction as safe as possible because we know no matter what, there is possibility that we're going to wind up in that kind of interaction with somebody for one reason or another.

Theresa Freed: [06:48] And one of the exercises that I think was really interesting was having to put on headphones I think, or earbuds and listening to some different conversation or music or things like that and trying to complete a task. So you, it's not just like you're learning how to respond, but also you're learning the mentality of some of the people that you're working with. Is that right?

Justin Shepherd: [07:08] Absolutely. One of the things we learned early on, especially in police work, is in order to be able to come to a point where somebody is willing to take that next step to be able to help themselves, you have to build a rapport with them. And the only way to be able to build rapport or at least true rapport is to understand exactly what they're going through or at least as closely as we can without having to experience it ourselves. So whenever you go through a situation like that where you get to experience what it's like trying to navigate just normal activities in a day while being bombarded by all the stimuli that your brain is just not equipped to try to sort through and handle, you understand why they might react a certain way, why they might be distracted whenever you try to communicate with them or why they may not even be able to fill out a basic form and find a way to be able to help them through that process as opposed to becoming frustrated and believe that they're trying to be obstinate.

Theresa Freed: [07:54] All right. And what are some of the successes that you guys have seen through this training and the program itself?

Justin Shepherd: [08:00] Well, the first indication we ever get about success related to the training is usually the feedback from the officers and the individuals going through the training itself. And we hear a lot of comments about how fortunate we are in the area with our relationship with Johnson County Mental Health. And then we see those successes with the interactions that each agencies have with individuals going through crisis. Our council meets once a month to be able to discuss issues in the area as well as being able to coordinate the best ways to utilize the resources in the area such as the hospitals and other locations. And so when we have those meetings, especially with representatives of Johnson County Mental Health, we hear how appreciative individuals are that they had an officer who was CIT-trained show up on scene or they had a co-responder come out and help them navigate a mental health system that they may have had no previous interaction with in the past. And just the ease that they're able to find a way to be able to say this is probably going to be the best recommendation. This is something that you need to explore, try out and even find ways to be able to prevent somebody from going to a hospital, especially when they don't want to sit in an ER experience.

Theresa Freed: [09:03] All right, and anything else you want to share with our listeners about the work that you guys are doing?

Justin Shepherd: [09:08] Well, one thing that I always like to mention, I had the fortune of last month about going to the CIT international conference, which it's, we always mention the fact that we may be the Johnson County CIT council. We utilize an idea of CIT that originated in Memphis, Tennessee, but there are CIT organizations all across the nation and even international organizations as well. I think there's even a news update recently talking about teen mental health first aid that was coming from Australia and that was a wonderful opportunity for Johnson County Mental Health to bring that into the schools. But one of the things that CIT international put together was a book about best practices for CIT groups trying to find ways for CIT programs to be able to utilize it. And the preface in that book written by the co-chairs for CIT international was relationships are the secret to success and I just want to leave you with one comment out of there that I thought was very important about it. They basically talk about the fact that CIT, even though it has an aspect that is training such as our 40 hour basic CIT training, that's not the full goal of what CIT is. The goal of CIT is to have those relationships be able to find the answers in ways to be able to get people connected with the right treatment at the right time. And so whenever they comment that that type of interaction can only be accomplished when law enforcement agencies build relationships with mental health professionals and agencies and work with advocates to fight for a better mental health system. And is that constant communication and for individuals to know who they can reach out to to be able to have those kinds of conversations. That is one of the true benefits we get from our basic CIT training course.

Theresa Freed: [10:39] All right, great information and thank you for joining us. Thank you very much for your time. A coordinated response between mental health and law enforcement is certainly important to the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners. I'm joined by one of the commissioners now who has an interest in this issue. First District Commissioner Becky Fast. Thanks for being with us.

Becky Fast: [10:56] Thank you for having me here. Mental health is a critical and important issue in Johnson County. I serve as the Johnson County liaison to the Johnson County Mental Health department. Each of the commissioners has liaison duties and that was a passion of mine. Johnson County has a suicide every four days. Now. This is a critical issue. Johnson County, several years ago went to the local cities and how we can partner to work together with our crisis response team, but even with that, we still only have 11 crisis response teams in the County. We don't have night or weekend coverage. And that is definitely a concern of mine. Some of the focus of our new positions is how do we assist people who are going into our county jails? How do we assist them when they're going in with an assessment and then once they're in help them when they come back.

Becky Fast: [11:57] Most individuals in our jail are only there a few days and you know, through addictions, other crisis challenges they're dealing with in their life and so they don't have the support. So how can we help them with a job transportation so that we don't have high recidivism that you see in many County jails. And so Johnson County, I'm very proud is one of seven counties nationwide identified as a stepping up innovator County because of our work to have a seamless integration. The Johnson County Mental Health is now going to be providing services within our jail. Previously it was a private contractor and that will help a seamless integration prior to people going into the jail and coming out. But also working with our community in law enforcement. I have 11 cities in District 1, and I've talked to about all of the chiefs of the police and they all say the need is growing and they see more suicide and more crisis needs every day.

Becky Fast: [12:59] And by helping at the front end, then we are able to stabilize and support. There's an adult crisis response center in Johnson County, but we don't have the youth crisis center in Johnson County. And that is one of the things I will be bringing to our legislative agenda to working with the state state funding and to have this youth crisis center. Okay. That's some great information about what's happening at the County level with, with the board and then also at the state level. Can you talk a little bit more about why this is a passion for you? Well, I personally have a mental health background. I have a master's in social work. I teach classes at the university level. So, and I've worked in the front line, been a hospice social worker, helping individuals, families at the end of life with their quality of life.

Becky Fast: [13:49] And mental health needs. So it's been a part of my life, worked in senior services early on in, in my profession and now teach and conduct research besides my County Commission duties. So I see the growing need and been involved in the community on the mental health side for 30 years and the public demand and the need is more than I've seen throughout my career.

Theresa Freed: [14:13] Alright. Any, any messages you want to have for the public? Just about this being a priority and being sensitive to this issue?

Becky Fast: [14:19] Yeah, I would just really encourage you to reach out to our Johnson County Mental Health center if you have you know, if you're feeling anxiety, depression and a call and your local police to, will bring that co-responder to your house too and please the stigma is always there, but help is near and getting those support services is so important.

Theresa Freed: [14:45] All right. Thank you very much for joining us today.

Becky Fast: [14:47] Thank you.

Theresa Freed: [14:48] We've heard about the need for these Crisis Intervention Teams. Now you'll have the opportunity to hear how a coordinated response personally impacts individuals with mental illness and their families. Thanks for being with us.

Anonymous Woman: [15:00] Thank you for having me.

Theresa Freed: [15:01] All right. Can you start off by just sharing a little bit about your story, your family situation, the contact with law enforcement that you've had? Sure.

Anonymous Woman: [15:10] So everything kind of came together all at once. It wasn't until he was in the depths of addiction before we were able to get the diagnosis of bipolar. When we were going through all of this, we quickly stepped in as parents and we sent our son to a outdoor place in Utah for adolescents. We spent a lot of money and hopes that we caught it early. When he got back the marijuana was a big deal to us. We were able to kind of shut that down, but alcohol was very easy for him to get. His addiction was pretty intense and soon enough we were seeing the police fairly regularly. I feel very blessed because we live in a community where the police officers know him by name. And I know that when they show up on the scene and someone is acting extremely erratic they don't know that.

Anonymous Woman: [16:13] And so they are reacting to the situation. They have to protect themselves, they have to protect the community. But if they know there's mental illness, I think that's so important. And fortunately they did know that and they were very caring. I have nothing but great things to say about them. I know that in a larger city that may not always be the case where they don't know the young man or woman. It has been an ongoing and still is an ongoing issue and something that we are constantly thinking about.

Theresa Freed: [16:47] Okay. And what kind of a toll does that take on you and the family?

Anonymous Woman: [16:52] It's just always something and I feel like we are extremely educated, not by choice and so many ways. I see a lot of places that need help. Thank God I live in an area where the police have been so good to me. It breaks my heart though.

Theresa Freed: [17:11] So what message do you have for law enforcement in general and the public about the importance of being sensitive to this issue and kind of understanding where you are coming from and where your son might be coming from?

Anonymous Woman: [17:28] I think probably, Oh gosh, it's really hard to say. Speaking to, I mean, we're so blessed here in Kansas City to live in such a great, great area. I know that it's not that way everywhere. I would say to get to know the kids. If you know that you have a kid in your community who you are getting called on a lot, if you know that he has mental health issues, please understand that that doesn't define their actions. And help the parents reach out to get help.

Theresa Freed: [18:04] Okay. anything that, that you want to express about the fact that so many of the law enforcement in our community are getting this training so that they can approach these situations and de-escalate?

Anonymous Woman: [18:17] Right. If, you know, there's mental health issues, I think I would just say have patience. I hope that, you know, I hope that they, it's gotta be hard, but once you know that you're dealing with mental illness just having patience and try to be understanding I think that that's probably the most important thing and that fortunately we've had a lot of that.

Theresa Freed: [18:42] And just last question. What are your hopes for your son and for your family?

Anonymous Woman: [18:47] My hope for my son is that he can realize his worth. I think in the midst of the addiction, in the midst of mental illness, he has lost sight of who he is. He's highly intelligent and very motivated. So my hopes are that my son can have, can have peace of mind because with mental illness and the medications and the addictions and everything, I think that sometimes he doesn't feel worthy of this life and all hat has to offer.

Theresa Freed: [19:19] Okay. Well thank you so much for sharing your story and thanks for being with us.

Anonymous Woman: [19:23] Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Theresa Freed: [19:25] You can learn more about the county's efforts to help those experiencing a mental health crisis by visiting the Kansas law enforcement CIT council webpage at KansasCIT.org. Thanks for listening.

Announcer: [19:37] You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at JoCoGov. For more on this podcast, visit JoCogov.org/podcast. Thanks for listening.