Haven, the team’s therapy dog, joined the growing team and soon began helping out on calls.
“She just melts people,” the sergeant said. 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 a co-responder. Now, he has grown to four trained Crisis Intervention Team officers, six co-leads and Haven, with room for more.
The team is allowed 12 cops, but now only has four due to staff shortage.
The team is a partnership between the Overland Park Police Department and the Johnson County Department of Mental Health 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 the city council voted 9-1 to approve last September’s budget that included an increase in property taxes for the team. They also received nearly $250,000 from the Justice Department.
Its 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 may also do more advanced training for specialties such as elderly, juvenile, homeless, and negotiation.
Brought, who leads OPCAT, said that when they expanded, several patrol officers expressed interest in joining the team, but vacant patrol officer positions must be filled before anyone can move on to the OPCAT unit.
OPCAT was created in 2013 with a specialist from the crisis intervention team and a co-responder from the Johnson County Department of Mental Health. It grew to two CIT specialists and three co-responders in early 2021 before it was approved for expansion again last September.
Her therapy dog, Haven, is just over a year old and unique for a police dog. She was originally brought in as a therapy dog for officers and staff only, but now she does some calls with officers, Brought said.
Brought said everything has to line up correctly for her to take a call. It has to be an appropriate situation for her to help and the person she calls must give her consent for her to be there.
He recalled an incident where someone’s boyfriend tried to shoot them, but the ammo in the gun was wrong, so it didn’t go off. The victim was able to sit with Haven and pet her while she waited for detectives to arrive.
Haven’s first big event with the public was after school. Olathe East High School shooting in March, where an 18-year-old student, Jaylon Elmore, allegedly shot Erik Clark, the school resource officer.
Elmore, Clark and Assistant Principal Kaleb Stoppel were injured in the shooting.
Brought said the students told her they didn’t even know they needed Haven that day. they thought they were fine because they were on the other side of the school when the shooting happened, Brought said. But Haven helped relax them.
His harness says “police dog” on one side and “pet me” on the other. Brought said the 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 will continue to work to get help 24/7. She said she hopes that maybe they can be someone’s first point of contact when they make a crisis call, but that she can point them to the right resources in Johnson County to help them.