HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The Decatur Police Department’s first-ever mental health liaison started in the new role on Monday. One of the goals of the position is to help the interactions between law enforcement and the mentally ill.
Kathryn Anderson, the new mental health liaison, says she’s always had a passion for where mental health and law enforcement meet.
“My goal is to help Decatur and the surrounding areas learn how to interact with the mental health community and support them in treatment options and to have healthier interactions within the community and the police department and the providers in the area,” said Anderson.
She says while it can be difficult navigating mental health situations, her job is to help make it easier and more manageable.
“Mental health is a very challenging thing but I think police officers are doing the best that they can with what they’re 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 the goal,” she adds.
Decatur Police Chief Nate Allen says it’s all about learning how to de-escalate a situation out in the field.
“We all know that when we encounter a person that may be in a mental crisis, the uniform within itself can be something that incites a person,” said Chief Allen. “We don’t want to incite, we want to de-escalate.”
How exactly to get to that point will take some time because Decatur Police is starting from the beginning with this position. Even so, Chief Allen says they have a plan set in place.
The first six months, Anderson will focus on learning police procedures and getting to know mental health providers in the area. Once she gets settled into the department, Anderson will also begin responding to non-emergency, non-violent mental health calls. Chief Allen says that will probably be about a year and a half down the road.
“Happy healthy people don’t break the law,” said Anderson. “So to be able to be a part of this and be a part of a department that is thinking forward and thinking towards the future is very exciting for me.”
Chief Allen says filling the mental health liaison position is the first step toward fixing the stigma surrounding mental health. The rest will be a learning process.