Wichita police push to add mental health workers to stations

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WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – The Wichita Police Department said it is seeking, through a grant, to hire mental health workers to work out of the police sub-stations.

On Tuesday, Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay asked the city council to approve the project budget for a police station facility assessment and patrol east security remodel.

Right now, the police department operates with a decentralized patrol model and operates out of four neighborhood stations. Patrol East has not been updated since it was opened in 1989.

“The size of it seems to be originally for anywhere between 40 and 50 officers. Currently, I have 126 personnel that work out of this station,” said Wichita Police Captain Kevin Mears.

Mears said there is a lack of office space and personal space at the substation. He said he has 12 sergeants working in a room made for maybe one or two people. He added the locker room are outdated.

“They wear their uniforms in. They do not have a choice. The locker rooms will not put, if you try to hang a uniform in our lockers or put your equipment, your gun belt, whatever, you don’t have room, you cannot do it,” Mears said.

The parking lot, which Mears said is not large enough for all of his staff’s patrol cars, is also not secure.

“We had one that the light bar was loosened on the car to the point it almost fell off when the officers started driving down the road. We have had tires slashed, we’ve had peoples’ cars keyed,” he said.

Mears added Patrol East is the only substation in Wichita that is not secure. He said the public could make their way to restricted areas if his officers are not careful.

“They would be able to walk in. There is one officer sitting there at the front desk. That is the only security keeping them from going any further,” he said.

It’s for those reasons Chief Gordon Ramsay said he is pushing for a police station study, so he and his staff will know how to make the appropriate changes to the current substation conditions. Ramsay told the city council he would like to add interview rooms, lights to the parking lots and enough lockers for his officers. He also mentioned the addition of mental health workers to the city council.

“The other part I know is the COMCARE element and trying to get a certified master level or bachelor level therapist who could be here at all four stations working with the officers,” Mears said.

Mears said the idea of hiring mental health workers is at the very beginning stages. He said the department is currently writing a grant to possibly add them to the stations. He said if everything goes as planned, it’s possible the therapists would be available to help officers with the dozens of mental health calls they respond to.

“It would be a dream come true,” he said. “That would help us so much because a lot of my officers time is dealing with citizens with mental disorders and issues and health problems.”

President and CEO of Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas, Carol Manning, said one in four people suffer from some sort of mental illness. She said if the police department were to hire mental health workers, it would strengthen the Wichita community,.

“I think whatever support we can give to our community is very valid. It’s really needed. I think it helps to strengthen the police department, it helps the community and it’s going to be better overall for the individuals they are working with,” Manning said.