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CommUnity’s mental health liaison discusses first three months working alongside Iowa City police
Joachim Seelos talks about new role he began in late August
IOWA CITY — Joachim Seelos is passionate about helping people and meeting them where they’re at.
Seelos, who has a background in criminal justice and social work, is a law enforcement liaison at CommUnity Crisis Services who works with the Iowa City Police Department. He began his position at the end of August.
The position was created as part of Iowa City’s plan to restructure the police department. Cedar Rapids and Marion police have similar liaison programs.
Seelos spoke with The Gazette about the first three months in his new role, educating residents about mental health resources and being compassionate.
“It’s been an amazing journey and training with mobile crisis because I was really able to understand our mission,” Seelos said. “We listen, we advocate, we show our empathy, we bring all that we can to the table, which really helps the client and even their families.”
Q: Could you start by sharing more about yourself and your career before joining CommUnity?
A: “I am originally from Lafayette, Louisiana. I came from a very Creole background. My mother is Caucasian, and my father is African American, so I grew up in a very multicultural family. I basically was in a Roman Catholic seminary and a Benedictine monastery in my 20s. When I left, I ended up working at an at-risk school, which I really became introduced to social work, trauma and all the things that are considered regarding mental health crisis. I ended up moving to Kansas City where I ended up working with homeless youth, and I went back to school. I ended up studying criminal justice with a minor in social work.“
Before moving to Iowa City, Seelos was working with foster care and adoption at Cornerstones of Care in Kansas City. Seelos also is part of the LGBT community and the deaf community, he said.
“Having all that understanding helps me to help other people who are from diverse backgrounds,” he said.
Q: What made you interested in the law enforcement liaison position with CommUnity?
A: “I definitely wanted a challenge. Coming in the area of working with children and families, that challenge I wanted to be more in working with not just children and families but with adults and the elderly, as well. Anybody that is in a crisis. I think also having this criminal justice degree and then also having this experience in social work, I’m able to sort of combine that.”
Another aspect that grabbed his attention was the mobile crisis philosophy and mission, Seelos said. With the Mobile Crisis Outreach program, mental health counselors are dispatched to where a mental health crisis is occurring.
Seelos said it’s important to meet people where they’re at without bias and judgment.
“People will often be uncomfortable when it comes to somebody in mental health crisis, and we have to help them to understand that we’ve all been there, so let’s have some empathy,” Seelos added.
Q: Can you share more about your position? What have the first three months been like?
A: “My position is the co-responder model. A lot of times the police department will get many calls, but my hope is to divert some of those calls to me. I have my own work vehicle where I will go and meet the officer at the scene. If it is deemed safe, which normally it is, I can kindly ask the officers (if) they can go out back into service and I will continue to work with the individual. There may be times where I’m already riding with an officer, and we respond to a call. I also work with my managers and our supervisors, they also work closely with me to continue to make sure that our clients get the assistance and the resources that they need.”
Another important part of his job, Seelos said, is the ability to follow up with clients or people who have had contact with an officer. Some examples of calls for service can include an individual in psychosis or someone in severe depression with suicidal ideations.
Q: What are some of the goals of this position and partnership with the Iowa City Police Department?
A: “Our main goal is to help divert 911 calls (from the jail or hospital) to the mental health liaison. A lot of times officers still do go out there. I’ve seen them do incredible work, but I don’t carry a badge or a gun. So what is less traumatizing, right? It’ll be less traumatizing for me to go into that scene and to help the individual. I think that’s our biggest goal and to also to be able to educate the community as well that we have mobile crisis, and we have the mental health liaison.”
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