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Decatur Police Department hires mental health liaison

“I’ve always had a passion for where mental health and law enforcement meet. Happy healthy people don’t break the law,”
Published: Nov. 16, 2021 at 4:13 PM CST
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DECATUR, Ala. (WAFF) - The Decatur Police Department has hired a new mental health liaison officer.

According to DPD, Kathryn “Kate” Anderson graduated from Indiana University with a degree in Recreation Management with a focus in Recreation Therapy and Addictions Counseling. Anderson also worked in a residential treatment facility, state prison and psych hospital as a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist prior to attending Alabama A&M University where she earned a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology.

Anderson says it’s amazing to be a part of a department that’s thinking forward in terms of mental health.

“I’ve always had a passion for where mental health and law enforcement meet. Happy healthy people don’t break the law,” said Anderson.

Anderson’s day-to-day duties are still up in the air. Chief Nate Allen says the position has been in the works for over a year, with the biggest goal being to de-escalate mental health incidents.

“We all know when we encounter a person that may be in a mental crisis, the uniform within itself would be something that incites a person,” said Allen.

Anderson will also create partnerships with mental health providers, figure out what training officers need, and eventually go out to non-violent scenes to assist.

“Mental health is a very challenging thing, but I think police officers are doing the best they can with what their trained with and so, to be able to give them another tool in their belt or another way to interact in a different situation is always a goal and to be able to do that in a healthy way,” said Anderson.

This position is the only one of its kind in all of Morgan County’s law enforcement agencies. There are currently no positions like this in all of Limestone and Lawrence County.

“Just wearing the uniform, the gun, the badge, can be very intimidating to people who are probably already dealing with some anxiety and maybe some psychotic features. So, to have someone who doesn’t show up as a symbol of force can really help a situation de-escalate,” said Development Officer for the Mental Health Center of North Central Alabama William Giguere.

Limestone County Sheriff Josh McLaughlin says they deal with mental health crises almost daily, and currently have an on-call doctor to see if the person needs to be committed. But, McLaughlin says oftentimes, the person in crisis self-medicates.

“They get to the hospital to be assessed, and it’s determined that they have drugs in their system and they are no longer qualified to receive treatment. So, they send them back out the door which in turn, leaves us to deal with the problem,” said McLaughlin.

McLaughlin says another problem is the lack of beds at mental health facilities, and he worries a time will come where his officers or the person in crisis gets hurt.

“It’s a concern for me, for my officers, it’s a concern for my community, it’s a concern for the individual who needs help and it’s just not available for them,” said McLaughlin.

As for Anderson, she says she’s honored to serve Decatur.

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