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Local law enforcement wants to emulate CRPD’s Mental Health Team

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Nicole and Charity web
Nicole Watters, left, and Officer Charity Hansel, right, in their normal uniforms.

CEDAR RAPIDS (KWWWL) - Have you ever seen someone on the street not behaving exactly like you'd expect a normal person to behave? The Cedar Rapids Police Department has a team built for those situations.

The Mental Health Team is a partnership between Foundation 2 Crisis Services and the CRPD to help de-escalate and divert people having a mental health or substance abuse crisis. It's been around for two years.

The team has responded to over 560 calls for service.

"They may be embarrassed, they may be angry. There's so many emotions that individuals are feeling," Nicole Watters said, who's worked in mental health support since 2009.

Watters works out of the CRPD headquarters on 1st Street Southwest. She has a police radio but no gun and dresses in civilian clothes.

She's paired with Officer Charity Hansel, a former school resource officer at Kennedy High School and now fulltime member of the Mental Health Team.

"I think this is needed everywhere. And I think it's vital that it's not just social workers being sent to these scenes but that it's a team model," Watters said.

The team tries to stop the cycle of those environments where police are called to the same address for an issue over and over again, often many times in the same day.

"We don't want to arrest people. We want people's lives to get better. And that's what's so awesome about Nicole and this program is we're looking for a long term solution," Officer Hansel said, dressed in a long sleeve shirt and polo instead of full tactical vest.

From her time working at Mercy Cedar Rapids, in the Abbe Health Clinic and now in Foundation 2's Mobile Crisis Unit, Watters can easily connect people with social services.

Iowa City officials said Tuesday night they want to get a similar program in their police department in 2021. The Linn County Sheriff's Office and City of Marion are looking to add similar programs as well.

The Benton County Sheriff's Office is already working with a mental health professional.

Iowa City City Councilors will review this proposal at their next scheduled meeting on January 5. The city has already received a grant to fund part of this program from the Mental Health/Disability Services organization of East Central Iowa.

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Travis Breese

Reporter, Iowa City

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