Merriam and NEJC Add Mental Health Expert to Help Police Officers

Published on May 02, 2022

Merriam Police vehicle in parking lot. The vehicle is black and white.

There’s now a second co-responder to help with mental health-related calls at the Merriam Police Department.

Co-responders are licensed clinicians employed by the Johnson County Mental Health Center. When needed, they meet officers out in the field, offer mental health services to those in immediate crisis, and provide follow-up contact.

In 2017, Merriam partnered with seven northeast Johnson County police departments and provided the first mental health co-responder to aid officers. Now, five cities continue to work together to meet community needs. 

But, those community needs continue to grow. So last year, the Merriam Police Department applied for and received a grant to add a second co-responder to the team. Merriam Police Chief Darren McLaughlin said having a second co-responder helps with trends of increased mental health-related service calls and the lack of available resources. 

“Having a second co-responder will allow for more follow-up contact after these service calls and make sure people know about programs across the metro area that can help them with their needs,” McLaughlin said.

Follow-up contact for specific needs includes finding resources for those who are:

  • Victims of domestic violence.
  • Family members who lost someone to a drug overdose.
  • Family members who lost someone in a tragic death.
  • Struggling with legal issues.

Jen Melby was the sole co-responder responsible for mental health-related calls in the five-city partnership. This year, she was promoted to Team Leader and is now in charge of two new co-responders serving our area.

“By adding another co-responder, the main benefit is doubling the amount of time a co-responder is in service and available to respond to those calls,” Melby said.

One of the new co-responders serving our area is Andy Massey. He started today after months of training and is stationed at the Merriam Police Department. Krista Walker is the second co-responder. She said this is her dream job.

“I’m loving it,” Walker said. “Assisting the community and providing resources and connections is a big reason I wanted to get into this profession. I’m so passionate about being able to not only help individuals through a current crisis but help get them connected with resources to cope with future crisis.”

Walker said having more co-responders will provide better opportunities to serve the public. She said she appreciates the local police officers who are willing to work with the co-responders, so they can give individuals the best care possible. 

Police Departments across the county are realizing the benefits of co-responders. Melby said the number of co-responders in Johnson County doubled this year. That figure is no surprise to McLaughlin.

“Co-responders are part of our team, and we’re committed to providing these resources in a way that best serves our community,” McLaughlin said.