A federal grant of $222,345 will support the Cedar Rapids Police Department (CRPD) in its work with Foundation 2, a nonprofit human services agency, to connect individuals experiencing mental health issues to appropriate resources, instead of incarcerating them.
The money will be used over the next three years to “enhance police response” to individuals with mental health issues or substance abuse problems by adding a second law enforcement liaison, CRPD said in a Facebook post on Wednesday.
CRPD will also assign a police officer dedicated to assisting the liaisons. The grant was awarded by the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.
Hiring a second liaison will allow “more staff [to be] available in real-time to address those crises as they occur,” Foundation 2 Chief Operations Officer Sarah Nelson-Miller told Little Village.
The Cedar Rapids-based nonprofit specializes in crisis prevention and intervention programs.
CRPD and Foundation 2 received the first grant of $70,000 in October 2017. Five months later, Nicole Watters started working as the law enforcement liaison. The goal is to get the second liaison hired in the next six months, Nelson-Miller said.
“What we know with the implementation is that there is great demand,” Nelson-Miller said. “The calls for mental health-related crises are not decreasing in our community. It is a significant issue in our community.”
The liaison’s main role is to assist officers when they identify people experiencing a mental health crisis or related disorders. The liaison can also direct individuals to available resources. The liaison is an employee of Foundation 2, but works out of the police station.
“It’s not an easy position to hire for because the worlds of mental health crisis work and law enforcement are very different,” Nelson-Miller said. “It has to be the absolute right fit for the person to be very successful in both worlds. … It’s critical to the success of the program and position that we have the right people in those roles.”
Last year, Watters provided resources or service referrals to close to 250 people between February and December.
By diverting individuals experiencing a mental health crisis to resources instead of jail, they avoid the possibility of losing their jobs, homes or families, Nelson-Miller said.
Programs encouraging treatment instead of incarceration for individuals with substance use issues or mental health needs can reduce crime and save money, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). It can also be a way for states, like Iowa, to reduce their jail and prison populations.
“We’re looking to create systemic change in how law enforcement responds to mental health issues,” Nelson-Miller said.