Lincoln Police will now work with mental health professionals on some calls

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – The Lincoln Police Department is implementing a new strategy to handle mental health calls.

“It takes a lot to be able to do this correctly,” Chief Teresa Ewins said. “What we have now is a mental health coordinator as well as a homeless coordinator, which will both start on the 19th, and we hope to build from there.”

The coordinators will help by sending a mental health professional with officers when they go out on a call.

Ewins said she’s been working to improve LPD’s mental health response since she became chief.

She recently visited Portland, Maine, where she was able to observe that department’s co-responder program.

Officers work with liasons, who are professionals in mental health, when they respond to mental health calls.

“They’re working within the police department. A lot of times, you don’t really see that,” Ewins said. “When I talked to the officers, they’re like, ‘It’s a great relationship. They help us tremendously.'”

Ewins said this co-response is something the public has been asking for.

But others think it’s not a job for law enforcement.

“For a long time, people said homelessness is not a police function, mental health is not a police function,” Ewins said. “You’re right, it’s not. But we’re part of a larger picture. Mental health hits every family, so we have to remember that this personal for everyone.”

In 2021, LPD was called nearly 4,000 times for mental health services.

Ewins said on those calls, it can be difficult for the officer to talk the person down because they could feel threatened by law enforcement.

“I mean, it does get very difficult because you don’t know what story is going on in their head,” she said.

Ewins said having a professional with an officer could de-escalate the situation and make it safer for everyone.

But why now? LPD has grant funding and the full support of Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird, which Ewins said has helped to make co-response a reality.

Ewins said the department has to be prepared to adapt to fit the community’s needs.

“Change means progress. You have to have progress. If not, what good are you to society? You have to change,” Ewins said. “You have to be willing to listen to society and understand the needs of your communities. If you’re not going to do that, I’m not really sure how productive you’re going to be.”

Ewins said she plans to continue to travel around the country to learn about other methods of handling mental health calls so she can create the best program for Lincoln.

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