Fremont police adopt mental health focus

1 month ago Fremont Tribune

As the national focus on police-public interactions continues to grow, one area of rising public concern is on mental health and incidents that may involve a person who is not engaging in serious crime, but instead having a mental health crisis.

After several incidents of disturbances of the peace or disorderly conduct arrests in Fremont were reported to the Tribune, some residents questioned what the Fremont Police Department’s approach to suspects possibly having a mental health crisis is.

Fremont Police Chief Jeff Elliott said while the department’s main duty is to ensure public safety, keep the peace and respond to and investigate crimes, the department has taken a forward-thinking approach to mental health issues – notably in the form of hiring a mental health specialist.

Elliott also said as chief, he has not witnessed nor seen an increase in

“It always has been, and always will be an issue, in particular, homeless people who may have mental health issues. But, I am not aware of an increase in incidents,” Elliott said. “The department’s main focus is on keeping the peace. We also enforce the law. If we go to an incident, and a person is violating the law, we are going to deal with that aspect first. Then, if they are not violating the law, they are doing other things, and we have a mental health co-responder, we try to enlist her help to find someplace for this person to receive services if they are cooperative and willing to receive help.”

Elliott stressed, though, that police have a primary duty above other responsibilities to deal with violations of state law.

“Our first job is to keep the peace, enforce the law and then enlist any other services after that,” he added. “(Our co-responder) is a mental health professional that can respond on calls with us to mental health situations…to try to find services for individuals.”

That co-responder is Officer Rachel Wesely, who joined the department several years ago to assist with mental health incidents and people whom the licensed law enforcement personnel may come across in their calls.

“We’ve had a number of calls where we show up, and people say, ‘We called you because we have a need for mental health help,’” Elliott said. “Well, we are not here to help with mental health calls. We are here to keep the peace. However, if we are in a situation where we can assist after we have taken care of the law enforcement aspect of it, that is what the mental health co-responder is there for.”

One area of extra knowledge police can acquire in regard to mental health is specialty training, which Elliott says the department has sent officers to.

“A number of our officers have gone through Critical Incident Training, which is a week-long training seminar on dealing with people having mental health crises. We’ve had a number of officers go through that training,” Elliott noted. “It is an ongoing process.”

Fremont Mayor Joey Spellerberg said the addition of mental health co-responder Rachel Wesely to the police department has been a welcome development as law enforcement attempts to navigate incidents involving mental health crises.

“(Wesely) is a uniquely qualified mental health responder who is able to respond to tough situations,” Spellerberg said.

At the prosecution level, newly elected County Attorney Pamela Hopkins said mental health issues that may arise in criminal court proceedings are handled with diligence, care and privacy. She noted that addressing mental health is an issue that requires strict adherence to Nebraska Board of Mental Health statutes.

“We always follow the statutory requirements. The process is fully confidential to protect suspects, and yes there are competency hearings,” Hopkins explained. “The statutes require us to work with the courts and mental health providers.”


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