The Overland Park Crisis Action Team expanded last fall and gained more than just officers.
Haven, the team’s therapy dog, joined the growing team and soon started helping out on calls.
“She just melts people,” said Sgt. Stewart Brought, who leads the team, which is called OPCAT for short.
Officer Justin Shepard, a member of the team, remembers when OPCAT was just him and one co-responder. Now, it has grown to four Crisis Intervention Team trained officers, six co-responders and Haven, with room for more.
The team is allowed 12 police officers, but only has four now because of staffing shortages.
The team is a partnership between the Overland Park Police Department and the Johnson County Mental Health Department to respond to mental health calls with professionals trained in crisis intervention. The Overland Park Mental Health Task Force recommended an expansion last year and the city council voted 9-1 to approve the budget last September that included an increase in property taxes for the team. They also received nearly $250,000 from the Department of Justice.
Their goal is to pair specially trained officers with licensed mental health professionals to respond to mental health calls. Officers go through crisis intervention training and also can do more advanced training for specialties like elderly, juveniles, homelessness and negotiating.
Brought, who leads OPCAT, said when they were expanded, several patrol officers expressed interest in joining the team, but the open patrol officer positions must be filled before anyone can move over to the OPCAT unit.
OPCAT was created in 2013 with one crisis intervention team specialist and one Johnson County Mental Health Department co-responder. It grew to two CIT specialists and three co-responders in early 2021 before being approved to expand again last September.
Their therapy dog, Haven, is just over a year old and is unique for a police dog. She was originally brought on as a therapy dog for just officers and staff, but now she goes on some calls with officers, Brought said.
Brought said everything has to line up correctly for her to go out on a call. It has to be an appropriate situation for her to help and the caller must consent to her being there.
He recalled one incident where someone’s boyfriend attempted to shoot them, but the ammunition in the gun was not correct, so it did not go off. The victim was able to sit with Haven and pet her while waiting for detectives to arrive.
Haven’s first big event with the public was after the school shooting at Olathe East High School in March, where an 18-year-old student Jaylon Elmore allegedly shot at Erik Clark, the school resource officer.
Elmore, Clark and assistant principal Kaleb Stoppel were injured in the shooting.
Brought said that students told him they didn’t even know they needed Haven that day. They thought they were fine because they were across the school when the shooting occurred, Bought said. But Haven helped relax them.
Her harness says ‘police dog’ on one side and ‘pet me’ on the other. Brought said kids love her because she is one of the few police dogs they can interact with.
While the team and resources have grown, Shepard hopes they continue working towards 24/7 help. He said he hopes they can maybe be someone’s first point of contact when they make a crisis call, but that he can point them to the right resources in Johnson County to help them.