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Mental Health Workers Help Cops, Courts Meet Needs Of The Mentally Ill

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Swope Health Services

In a roundtable conversation on Thursday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon heard from police and mental health workers about their collaboration in efforts to provide treatment, not punishment, for the mentally ill.

There are five so-called "community mental health liaisons" in the Kansas City area, thanks to a three-year effort by Nixon's administration. These liaisons assist law enforcement in crisis situations such as a threatened suicide or person suffering from delusions.  

Law enforcement officers are frequently the first point of contact with people in crisis. Liaisons are called upon to redirect those who might be a public nuisance, dangerous to others or to themselves from incarceration to treatment.

"Their responsibility is to react directly with law enforcement," Nixon says. "We've had 33,ooo calls by law enforcement in the first two years,"he says. He went on to say some 18,000 people have been directed to mental health services.

In 2013, Nixon's administration secured $10 million annually for a comprehensive mental health program that includes the liaisons. The 2017 budget includes support for people with developmental disabilities and substance abuse.
 
Another benefit of the program is a liaison in municipal court three times a week. Municipal Court Judge Ardie Bland says these people are helpful when he might not understand the context of a certain case.

"This program has been huge," Judge Bland says. "We understand the law but we need help when it comes to determining the mental illness of some of the people who come before us in the courts."

The advocacy reduces recidivism rates among those who are mentally ill, says the judge, and reduces rates of incarceration.

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @laurazig or by email at lauraz@kcur.org.

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