St. Joseph County Police Department hires mental health liaison

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The St. Joseph County Police Department is getting some back up when its deputies respond to mental health related calls.

“I think as officers today we have to be a little bit more compassionate,” said St. Joseph County Sheriff Bill Redman.

At the beginning of the month, Dan Banicki, a corporal with the St. Joseph County Police Department, began working in a bran new role as the department’s mental health liaison.

The new position comes after he spent the past 24 years working for the department, primarily working as a patrolman.

“I want to help the community,” said Banicki. “This is one step to further that process of helping people not only with mental health issues, but the community.”

As a liaison, Banicki will assist deputies responding to mental health calls by connecting people in need of help to available resources.

Right now, he’s developing partnerships with local hospitals and psychiatric centers.

Banicki will also help people in jail with a mental health issue once they’re released by directing them to support services that can aid their recovery.

“They really don’t need to be arrested, they don’t need to be in jail, they need help,” said Banicki.

A 2016 review of studies suggest police officers are responding to more calls, one in 100 dispatches and encounters, that involve a person who has a mental health issue.

Banicki agrees, estimating he went to two to three mental health calls a week as a patrolman.

Sixty percent of inmates at the St. Joseph County Jail have a mental health issue according to the department.

The mental health clerk, who handles the civil side of the cases police respond to, says the number of new cases opened has jumped from 817 new cases in 2015 to 1,104 new cases in 2019.

“There are other options,” said Redman.

Redman believes those numbers indicate the department’s current approach of arrest of holding someone for 24 to 72 hours isn’t working. He explains it does nothing to actually treat a person’s mental health disorder.

Redman hopes the new approach helps and leads to a safer, more caring community.

“The end result will be less people in our jail, less time taken up by our officers out on the street,” said Redman.

The department says they’re only the second department in the state to have a mental health liaison. If Banicki’s role proves to be successful, Redman says he is open to hiring another officer into the role.

“If we can get them into the hospital, get them to another facility, that’s the end goal,” said Banicki. “Making sure they get treatment that they need. I believe it’s going to show that we as policemen, we do care about people, we do care about the community. We’re not here just to enforce laws.”

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