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The Fremont Police Department has launched a pilot program with Lutheran Family Services, partnering police officers with therapists to more effectively respond to citizens who are in the midst of mental health-related crises.

The program has embedded a licensed mental health practitioner within the police precinct where that person can act as a “co-responder,” monitoring 911 calls, assessing the need for mental health resources and responding to incidents alongside officers.

“The goal of the program is to partner law enforcement and mental health professionals with the community’s wellbeing in mind,” the Fremont Police Department said in a Facebook post.

Lutheran Family Services already offers a crisis response program that can provide officers with licensed mental health practitioners 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. But those therapists are often 45 minutes away in Omaha.

The new program extends that service into the police precinct, says Lindsay Kroll, crisis response supervisor for Lutheran Family Services.

“With the co-responder being there, at the precinct, getting alerted of the calls for service at the same time as officers, (the therapist) is really able to respond as immediately as law enforcement officers are to that incident or that call,” Kroll said. “Response time is minutes.”

The ultimate end goal of the pilot program is diversion: helping those struggling with underlying and often untreated mental health issues avoid involuntary hospitalization or incarceration, and gearing them toward the proper resources that they need, according to Kroll.

Therapists are uniquely situated to handle certain situations surrounding mental health that officers may not be trained for, Kroll said.

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“The simple fact that we don’t have a uniform, we don’t have a weapon, we’re plain-clothes therapists, so we often can communicate with people just for that,” she said. “It really allows us sometimes to get different information.”

Therapists also are familiar with resources with which officers may not be familiar.

The program is a two-year pilot that is providing one part-time licensed clinician to the Fremont Police Department. It’s being funded through a grant from the Behavioral Health Support Foundation, at no cost to the Fremont Police Department.

“The idea is to have immediate response to behavioral health-related calls that come in through 911 so that we are saving officers time,” Kroll said. “Law enforcement doesn’t receive an abundance of training on mental health and how to deal with mental health crisis—that’s just not the typical police training or police role. But they are inundated, oftentimes, for services that are related to mental health.”

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