By Matthew Kelly | The Wichita Eagle
Mental health professionals will soon be embedded in the Wichita Police Department to respond to 911 calls, providing face-to-face help for people in crisis, rather than relying on officers who may or may not be trained to do that.
At least one of four teams will be on call seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. — when first responders say they receive the most mental health-related calls — and the clinicians can be deployed with officers or called to the scene after contact is made.
“It’s an exciting time because we’re really looking at treating the person who’s in crisis where they’re at so we’re able to manage mental health-related calls and get people connected quickly to care at the time of crisis,” said Jennifer Wilson, Sedgwick County Comcare’s director of crisis services.
The development of a 24/7 mobile mental health response system was one of 58 recommendations put forward by the task force charged with addressing systemic failures that contributed to 17-year-old Cedric Lofton’s death in 2021. Police responded to a crisis call about Lofton, then took him to a juvenile detention facility where he was fatally restrained.
Under the terms of the agreement approved by the City Council on Tuesday, Comcare will hire the clinicians, and the city will reimburse the county for their salaries and expenses, including three new vehicles, technology and other equipment. The city agreed to pay $1.3 million to fund the program through 2024.
The partnership is being called ICT 2-5, but units will look different than the ICT 1 team that has been in place since 2019 and includes a mental health professional, a law enforcement officer and a paramedic.
These teams will be made up of one master’s level clinician who can diagnose, provide thorough assessments and make care recommendations, and a bachelor’s level clinician who will assist during the intervention and may be asked to follow up with patients several days later.
“If a referral to the hospital is needed, that’s possible, but that really is the last option,” Wilson said. “We really want to provide care at the time of crisis at the place where the person’s at to make it most comfortable for them and then make the referrals so they can get connected to outpatient care rather than requiring that institutional or psychiatric inpatient care.”
Wichita police Captain Jason Cooley said the ICT 1 team responded to more than 1,000 calls specifically requesting their service in 2022 and that roughly half of those calls resulted in on-site treatment.
Wilson said the eight new positions will be posted in the coming weeks. The Sedgwick County Commission gave its final approval of the partnership Wednesday.
“I’m confident that by the end of the year — hopefully July, August, we will have everyone hired and ready to go,” Wilson said. As teams are hired, they will be trained and stationed in WPD’s Central Bureau.
Crisis intervention training is not required for Wichita officers. Cooley said the partnership will help make the department more efficient while leaving mental health outreach to trained professionals.
“It will free up officers to answer other types of calls,” Cooley said. “Oftentimes, these calls will require at least two officers if not more, and then we’re transporting because there is no resource. We can’t leave them there, and then we’re staying with them at the hospital for several hours.”
Funding for the program beyond 2024 would have to be included in future years’ budgets.
Cooley said ICT 1 will maintain its normal hours while ICT 2-5 clinicians will work in 10-hour shifts on a rotating schedule that provides access to service 18 hours a day.
“I think, based on the data, that makes sense,” City Council member Brandon Johnson said. “I always think about CJ Lofton, and I know that timeframe would work for that call, but I would just hate to see between 2 and 8, something happened and we don’t have these teams.”
Wichita officers spent about an hour trying to convince Lofton to voluntarily go to the hospital for a mental evaluation. When he resisted arrest, they took him to the county’s juvenile lockup facility, where he was fatally restrained by five corrections workers.
The task force also recommended embedding mental health professionals in Sedgwick County 911 who can manage some crises over the phone and deploy mobile crisis teams when necessary.
“We also have been working on getting the 911 embedded integrated care specialists answering calls that are mental health-related,” Wilson said. “We had our first one hired and we’re training, and then we have our second one approved and we’re in the process of interviewing and hiring that person.”
This article was republished here with the permission of: The Wichita Eagle