For Kate Coleman, no day at work is the same as the one before. Working with the Shawnee Police Department, she might get called out three or four times in an 8-hour shift to assist with everything from someone who’s suffering a mental health crisis, having suicide ideation, or a neglect case involving an elderly or vulnerable person.
“Every day is truly so unique and different,” she said.
Kate isn’t a police officer, though. She is a co-responder, a licensed mental health professional who is employed by Johnson County Mental Health Center and embedded in the police department.
Johnson County has had a co-responder program since 2011. All co-responder positions are primarily funded by the cities/police departments. As of September 2021, there are 11 co-responders within 12 police jurisdictions covering 15 different cities and all of Johnson County given work with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office.
The goal of the co-responder program is to provide the right intervention at the right time by the right person.
“There are many times when I go out to calls where someone is having a mental health crisis and the person doesn’t want to talk to police,” said Kate. That’s when it’s helpful that she can say she’s a mental health worker; people may be more willing to open up to her or work with her differently. While officers are capable of handling calls without a co-responder and often do, it is beneficial when both mental health and police can be present. Each role brings valuable experience, training and strengths to the scene to provide the best outcome for individuals.
“There are times when individuals are more comfortable talking to a co-responder during a mental health crisis and other times when individuals feel better speaking with police. Having both professions on the call allows for us to meet more needs and come to the right resolutions.”
It’s also helpful for Kate to be able to go out on calls and see people in their actual living environments; she gets a better idea of how they function.
The co-responder program is an effort to reduce unnecessary arrests, inappropriate trips to the ER, and repeat calls for service by making sure the individual gets connected to the services they need. For some of Kate’s contacts, it’s a matter of getting them to agree to get counseling or treatment. For others, it’s escorting them to the hospital, filling out the paperwork, and following up with them after they’re released to make sure they’re okay and see if they need access to any additional services.
Crises do not have a time limitation and can continue to cycle if not resolved fully—that is why the post-911 calls are so critical. Kate is able to check to see if the crisis has resolved or if there is a need for ongoing support or new resources. The follow up is where Kate sees the most impact in her job. The individuals she helps are so grateful to get a phone call.
“That is where I really hear from a lot of people like, ‘I can’t believe someone cared so much to call and check in and see how I’m doing,’” she said.
See how your gift – on every level – impacts the donations and resources that co-responders rely on:
- $25 – Educational materials for suicide loss survivors
- $50 – Homeless boxes to provide immediate basic needs such as hygiene and food
- $150 – Smart doorbell camera to reduce paranoia, stress and anxiety
- $250 – Lodging costs for animals when an individual is in inpatient treatment
- $500 – Extreme cleaning for a hoarding conditions or restoration after a traumatic death
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Other services/needs that Friends can help support include:
- Establishment of International Co-Responder Alliance
- National Co-Responder Conference
- Co-responder equipment, such as iPads to access CAD in the cars
- Weather-appropriate uniforms for co-responders
- Help with immediate shelter needs
- Pet food/vet needs
- Funeral costs after a suicide or mental health related death
- Helping with fees for crime scene clean up
- Safety measures—locked med boxes/bag; solution packets to dissolve meds
- Reducing elderly 911 calls with measure like timed med boxes, respite care, amplified picture phones, etc.
- Larger expenses like auto insurance or house payment
- Payment assistance for inpatient stays