Haven, the team’s therapy dog, joined the growing team and soon began helping with calls.
“It just melts people,” said the sergeant. Stewart Privid, who leads the team, which is called OPCAT for short.
Officer Justin Shepard, a member of the team, remembers when it was only him and one of the responders participating in the OPCAT. Now, it’s grown to four trained Crisis Intervention Team officers and six response participants and Haven, with room for more.
The team is allowed 12 police officers, but now only has four due to Staff shortage.
The team is a partnership between Overland Park Police Department and the Johnson County Department of Mental Health To answer mental health calls with professionals trained in crisis intervention. The Overland Park Mental Health Task Force Recommended expansion last year and City Council voted 9-1 in approval The budget last September included an increase in the team’s property taxes. 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 answer mental health calls. Officers undergo training in crisis intervention and may also do more advanced training for specialties such as seniors, juveniles, homelessness, and negotiation.
Privid, who leads the OP, said that when it expanded, many patrol officers expressed interest in joining the team, but that the open patrol officer positions must be filled before anyone can move into the OP unit.
The OP-CAT was created in 2013 with a crisis intervention team specialist and one co-responder from the Johnson County Department of Mental Health. It grew to two ICT professionals and three response participants in early 2021 before agreeing to expand again last September.
The therapy dog, Haven, is just over a year old and is unique to a bloodhound. Brave said she was originally brought in as a therapy dog for officers and staff only, but is now making some calls with officers.
Prived said everything had to line up properly until she went out to make a call. The situation should be right for her to help and the caller should agree to her being there.
He recalls an incident where a friend of someone tried to shoot them, but the ammunition in the gun wasn’t right, so it didn’t explode. The victim was able to sit and pet Haven while waiting for investigators to arrive.
It was the first big event in Haven with the public after school Olathe East High School shooting In March, 18-year-old student Jaylon Elmore allegedly shot Eric Clark, a school resource officer.
Elmore and Clark and assistant manager Caleb Staubble were wounded in the shooting.
Brave said the students told him they didn’t even know they needed a sanctuary that day. They thought they were fine Because Brave said they were around the school when the shooting happened. But Heaven helped them relax.
Her belt says “sniffer dog” on one side and “pamper me” on the other. Prived said the kids love her because she’s one of the few bloodhounds they can interact with.
While the team and resources have grown, Shepherd hopes they will continue to work towards 24/7 assistance. He said he hopes they’ll be someone’s first point of contact when making a crisis call, but he can direct them to the appropriate resources in Johnson County to help them.