24/7 mental health crisis center in South Bend, Chief of Police and mother of Dante Kittrell speak out

NOW: 24/7 mental health crisis center in South Bend, Chief of Police and mother of Dante Kittrell speak out

SOUTH BEND, Ind. --- A $2.6 million funding agreement between the city of South Bend and Oaklawn will allow them to invest in the Memorial Epworth Center and establish a 24/7 mental health crisis center.

The crisis center is a solution to a problem that local officers, faith leaders, and families are not equipped to, but have to face on their own.

“This makes me feel good knowing that another mother won’t have to go through this,” says Marcia Kittrell, mother of Dante Kittrell.

Marcia Kittrell is hopeful that the establishment of a 24/7 mental health crisis center will save other mothers from the heartache of losing a child.

“We have to find ways to deal with and help our community, and this is one of the greatest ways we can,” says Chief Scott Ruszkowski, Chief of Police at the South Bend Police Department.

Improving mental health crisis response across the county has been discussed for two years, but the death of Dante Kittrell this past summer pushed the momentum of the project forward. That’s when South Bend police were put in a difficult situation facing a mentally ill man in crisis, waving a replica gun and threatening to shoot himself and officers. They wound up shooting and killing Kittrell after a standoff outside Coquillard Elementary School.

“Police are not trained,” Marcia Kittrell says. “They actually did not know what to do.”

“The officers were forced into an impossible situation and now a community member and a family member is gone,” says Chief Ruszkowski.

The push for the center is also strongly backed by local faith leaders, who know and see the need for better crisis response teams in the community first-hand.

“Here at Broadway, we are caring for people who are often in mental health distress, but we’re not equipped, we are not skilled enough to do that,” says Pastor Carl Hetler of Broadway Christian Parish. “We had one recently who was feeling suicidal, and he said, ‘Well maybe I’ll go get the police to kill me, so that they’ll end my life’. We don’t want our police to deal with that, we don’t want our guests to face that outcome.”

The center, being opened by Oaklawn with $2.6 million form the city, will open up another avenue for police when it comes to responding to mental health calls, averaging about three a day in 2022.

“That specific center itself to be the hub to find out what resources is needed, not having a police officer drive somebody around trying to find or beg somebody to help out,” Chief Ruszkowski says. “Or, simply like we’ve had to before, many, many times, most of the time actually, take them to jail and let them handle it. That is not right nor is it fair.”

Local law enforcement, faith leaders, and families of those who suffer from mental illness all see the benefit of this addition to the community.

“We have lots of caring people in our community, we have lots of hurting people in our community,” says Pastor Hetler. “By the Mayor making this commitment, providing these resources, it’s going to benefit all of us who are in need.”

For Marcia Kittrell, this step forward is part of her son, Dante’s, legacy.

“My son didn’t die for nothing,” she says.

South Bend Regional Chamber Website

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