Public Safety

Iowa City to consider police liaison job to go on mental health calls

Proposal pairs with another connecting homeless with services

People walk by the Iowa City City Hall, which includes the Police Department. The Iowa City Council on Tuesday will vote
People walk by the Iowa City City Hall, which includes the Police Department. The Iowa City Council on Tuesday will vote on funding a new law enforcement liaison position to hire a mental health professional to go with police officers on calls involving someone in crisis. (The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Just weeks after voting to support a civilian position designed to help Iowa City’s homeless population, the Iowa City Council on Tuesday will consider another community partnership aimed at diverting more calls from the police department.

This time, the city council will vote on partnering with CommUnity Crisis Services and Food Bank and Foundation 2 to create a law enforcement liaison position.

The liaison — a trained mental health and crisis professional — would be a CommUnity employee and a member of its Mobile Crisis Service, which operates 24 hours a day year-round.

the liaison would respond to certain calls for service alongside a police officer.

“Our goal is to prevent and divert crisis calls away from the (police) department,” City Manager Geoff Fruin said. “We also recognize many calls that involve someone in crisis have some type of public safety element to them.”

In a memo outlining the position, Fruin noted other police departments that have implemented the co-responder model have seen an increase in awareness and the use of civilian crisis services. The model also improves officer discretion, he said.

“Thus through training offered by this position and observation of its impact, Iowa City should expect that the number of referrals from officers to Mobile Crisis will increase over time after this position is hired,” the memo reads.

At the beginning of January, the city council agreed to commit $35,000 annually from the police budget to help fund a street outreach and engagement specialist employed by Shelter House. The specialist will reach out to the city’s homeless and connect them with services.

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Both positions are part of Fruin’s proposed plan to restructure the police department toward a community policing model and are designed to divert certain calls from police to appropriate civilian responders.

The resolution also calls for the police department to work with CommUnity and Foundation 2 on training and updating its policies in order to fully integrate the co-responder program.

The new position will be fully funded in the first year by a grant from the Mental Health/Disability Services of the East Central Region. The Iowa City Police Department will pay 25 percent of the salary in year two, 50 percent in year three and 75 percent each year after that.

Fruin said the city also will do its best to assist other law enforcement agencies with the new position.

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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