116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — Working in the field of mental health was not part of her career plan, says Brooke Bige, the new Foundation 2 mental health liaison with the Marion Police Department.
“My long-term goal was to be a probation officer with the Department of Corrections,” she said.
“I had wanted to be a probation officer since I was a kid in high school, after I watched one of my best friends go through the correctional system,” she said. “Her probation officer was really what turned her around, honestly, and really brought her back to all of us. So I just had a huge passion after that happened.”
So Bige studied criminal justice, earning a bachelor’s degree from Purdue Global University — formerly Kaplan University — in Cedar Rapids and a master’s degree from St. Ambrose University in Davenport.
But after completing her education, a mental health career “just sort of landed in my lap,” she said.
“You know, when you’re graduating, you’re looking for any job that would be in your realm and you're just applying like crazy, and that's what I did,” she said. “So, when I was offered a youth services position at Tanager Place (in Cedar Rapids), I felt it would be a great opportunity for me.”
Turns out that working in the field of mental health was a good fit.
“I loved every single bit of it,” she said. “I realized a passion for mental health.”
After nearly eight years at Tanager Place, Bige became a residential officer in a Department of Corrections halfway house.
“I worked with their all male population as they were transitioning back into the community,” she said.
It was a big change from working with children, Bige said, but it combined her longtime interest in probation and parole and her newfound interest in mental health.
“A lot of what I did was offer supervision and support,” she said. “One of the really big things we worked on was helping them pause and think before they gave into impulsive actions.”
Last year, Bige saw the job posting for a mental health liaison for the Marion Police Department, and “it was something that I just couldn’t pass up,” she said.
“It piqued my interest, because you really get to dabble with both worlds — the corrections side and the mental health side — and bridge that gap between law enforcement and mental health,” she said.
“You know, police officers are not always equipped to understand and talk about mental health or deal with someone who is dealing with mental health issues,” she said. “But they get phone calls like that practically every day, so that's where I can step in and help that person, maybe de-escalate a situation, connect them to resources, identify if there's any gap in coverage and then follow up to see that they are getting the help they need.”
Bige started her position with the police department in January.
Since then, she has had 39 face-to-face interactions with individuals in need of help, followed by multiple follow-up contacts.
Of those, roughly 65 percent have been stabilized and were able to remain in the community and 15 percent were voluntarily hospitalized because they needed a higher level of care. Four individuals were involuntarily hospitalized and one individual was jailed.
“And those are just the face-to-face interactions,” Bige said. “Those numbers don’t include the individuals that police might encounter after hours and send my way to follow up.”
The Marion City Council voted unanimously in October 2020 to contract with Foundation 2 Crisis Services for a law enforcement liaison. State and federal grants were being pursued to pay the annual $65,000 cost of the program. This year, the cost is covered by the police department budget
Marion is the second police department in The Corridor to add mental health liaison to its team.
The Cedar Rapids Police Department was the first, creating its liaison program about three years ago. The Cedar Rapids program has since evolved into a three-person unit that includes the liaison, a mental health officer and a supervising sergeant. The department is looking to add a second liaison.
The Linn County Sheriff’s Office and the Iowa City Police Department have both said they intend to create liaison programs, with the Iowa City Council approving the addition of a mental health position in February.
“It’s been a great two months,” Bige said, “It’s been busy and chaotic, you know this is a new program, so there’s been some learning curves, but I’ve really enjoyed working with the officers and meeting with people in the community.
“I love that I am in a position to help people, I work well in crisis,” she said. “Being able to walk in to de-escalate a situation and then walk that person through their options and connect them to the resources they need, it’s a really good feeling.”
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