DIGGING DEEPER: Springfield police mental health crisis protocol

Published: Feb. 3, 2023 at 9:50 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - KY3 took a deeper look into mental health crisis training Springfield police officers undergo following a deadly officer-involved shooting.

“The one entity that you will get when you call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it’s the police department, we are the response for pretty much anything everybody wants,” said Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams. “We do everything we can to provide additional resources, training, and education to officers to better handle some of those calls.”

Williams says in most cases mental health calls are certainly better handled by someone else and that he is trying to wean the department off of things that really do not need a police response.

Wednesday afternoon 33-year-old Justin Barker, was shot and killed by Springfield police officers in Tom Watkins Park. Police say the shooting happened after Barker pointed a handgun at officers.

The original 911 call that brought police to the park was for a well-being check for a man making suicidal comments.

After speaking to the chief about mental health crisis training he could not comment with specifics on the officer-involved shooting because it is still under investigation.

Right now, mental health professionals are helping respond to calls along with Springfield police. It’s made possible through a grant that started in September 2022 with Burrell Behavioral Health and other entities but only lasts six months.

“In a perfect world you would have a team of an officer and a mental health professional responding to a call that has the potential to be mental health,” said Williams. “Neither one of us has the staff to do that 24 hours a day.”

Williams says one of his long-term goals is to put mental health professionals in the field with officers all the time.

“It’s still in its infancy but we averaged around 80 calls that were handled through the CO responder program,” said Williams. “About a third of those were handled simply by the mental health professional not needing a law enforcement response.”

Williams says Springfield police also follow the “One Mind Initiative” to better prepare police to respond to mental health crisis calls.

The program includes having officers attend mental health classes, crisis intervention team training, and creating a relationship with Burrell.

Just two years ago academy classes were also required to do a Mental Health First Aid training academy and they do it again after a year in the field.

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