State expanding police training to handle mental health issues

Sedgwick County Jail (KSN File Photo)

WICHITA, Kansas – New state funding will address the growing mental health issues in the community that law enforcement deal with on a daily basis. Kansas will spend $75,000 next year to train more police officers to interact with people suffering from mental illness.

Jail cells across Kansas are filled with people with at least one type of mental illness. Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter sits on a governor-appointed advisory council working to address the issue.  Easter says the state has just one mental hospital for non-criminals, passing the problem to the local level.

“My jails are full with folks with mental illness that sometimes some of those folks don’t belong in jail but there’s nothing really out in the community to help them either so we’re hoping that this is just a small piece of it from the law enforcement end but we’re hoping with all the talking that we’re doing at the state level that we’ll see some differences made,” Easter said.

The first step is using state funds to pay for expanded training to all levels of law enforcement, from officers out on the streets to jail workers.

Next year, 30 more officers can attend voluntary mental health training. Expanding the Crisis Intervention Training program online makes training available to as many as 2,000 officers, or about 25% of all current law enforcement personnel in Kansas.

“You can be C.I.T. trained all day and if somebody draws a knife or points a gun at you that has a mental illness they’re going to be treated like anybody else would that would do that in society,” Easter said.

Only two counties in Kansas, Johnson and Sedgwick, currently have the funding to train officers. Smaller counties will benefit from the expanded funding for training. Butler County Sheriff Kelly Herzet is all for it.

“We will try to get as many as of our folks trained as we can like I said we deal with it quite often it seems like the state has cut back there’s not a place to take these folks,” Herzet said.

Gerry Lichti echoes that sentiment. He works with NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental illness in Wichita. He says treatment options are still lacking in Kansas, but expanded law enforcement training is still a huge step forward.

“It’s amazing what can happen there so it benefits all of us in the community it’s not just saving the lives of police individuals or members of the community but it’s an atmospheric change that occurs with the police,” Lichti said.

The $75,000 will be used for several training opportunities including classroom and online instruction.

In addition, 30 officers across the state will receive training to be able train other officers in the future.


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