In response to a growing need for mental health resources for law enforcement professionals, Heart of Iowa Community Services (HICS) has made plans to expand its innovative Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) co-responder program throughout the Dallas County and Des Moines metro region in 2023.
In July 2022, the Waukee Police Department was the first law enforcement agency to launch the co-responder program, whereby a dedicated police officer/mental health professional pair responds to calls from dispatch during their regularly scheduled shift. In the event a mental health call comes in during their off-hours, a mobile crisis unit with a mental health expert is called and responds to the situation within one hour.
In January, the Clive Police Department announced their participation in and launch of the program, with Urbandale and West Des Moines set to onboard later this spring. The goal is to also implement the program in the western part of Dallas County by mid-July 2023.
“We want to ensure those suffering with mental health receive the proper attention, while also keeping our first responders safe.”Darci Alt, CEO of the heart of iowa community services MHDS Region
“One in 5 people experience a mental health issue at some point in their lives, and those struggles affect their interactions with others and how they react to stress,” said Darci Alt, CEO of the Heart of Iowa Community Services MHDS Region, which serves individuals in Audubon, Dallas and Guthrie counties. “We want to ensure those suffering with mental health receive the proper attention, while also keeping our first responders safe.”
HICS has funded the 40-hour training course specializing in crisis intervention and de-escalation for all officers in the participating agencies, for a total of 200 law enforcement personnel trained.
Just six months into the Waukee program, the results speak to the need and effectiveness of the new approach to mental health-related calls. Since July 1, 2022:
More than 125 calls for service and follow-up have been provided.
Over 25 jail diversions have taken place.
More than a dozen diversions from local emergency departments have occurred.
Nearly 50 referrals have been made to local community resources.
With trainings being added throughout the year, Melinda Dennis, director of services for the Safe Harbor Crisis Center at Zion Integrated Behavioral Health Services, said officers and first responders have every opportunity to continue their education through the CIT courses.
“With funding from HICS for the co-responder program, we are addressing the increasing number of mental health-related calls received by dispatch and how we can — and should — interact with individuals in need,” Dennis said. “Jail should not be the first option for people in a mental health crisis. With a co-responder program in place and dedicated law enforcement and mental health professional team taking the calls, we can start to change the narrative and outcomes we’ve seen in the past.”