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Overland Park raises taxes to fund mental health police unit years after Albers death

·3 min read

Years after the fatal police shooting of 17-year-old John Albers during a welfare check, the city of Overland Park is creating a behavioral health unit in its police department.

The Overland Park City Council on Monday voted 9-1 to approve the new annual budget, raising property taxes to add crisis intervention officers and full-time co-responders for mental health emergencies.

“We’re going to be cutting edge in terms of this department,” Councilman Jim Kite said Monday.

The city’s property tax rate will increase by one mill. Property taxes would rise about $41 a year for a homeowner with a house valued at the average $350,000.

The initiative comes from work done by the city’s mental health task force, chaired by Councilman Chris Newlin. It was created after residents called on the city to improve crisis and mental health training for first responders.

Ever since John Albers was killed by police in 2018, his mother, Sheila Albers, has been a strong advocate pushing for Overland Park to improve mental health resources.

Sheila Albers has been a vocal critic of the Overland Park Police Department since an officer shot and killed her 17-year-old son, John, in 2018.
Sheila Albers has been a vocal critic of the Overland Park Police Department since an officer shot and killed her 17-year-old son, John, in 2018.

John Albers was shot six times as he backed out of the driveway of his family’s home. Police went to the residence on a welfare check after 911 calls said the teen was having a mental health crisis and trying to harm himself. Police officer Clayton Jenison fired 13 shots at the teen, who died at the scene.

The mental health task force has listened to school districts, the police department, advocacy organizations and others, “and all we heard was how we needed to do better when it comes to mental health in the city of Overland Park,” Newlin said at a meeting earlier this month.

“We lost a child on Jan. 20, 2018 — 12 days after I was sworn in Ward 6, who was killed by a police officer on a mental health check,” Newlin said. “I don’t ever want that to happen again.”

He said the city receives “seven to 10 mental health calls every day.”

With the property tax increase, the police department will create the new behavioral health unit, with 10 crisis intervention officers and one sergeant. And the city will have three full-time mental health co-responders.

In general, co-responders are mental health professionals who accompany police in certain emergencies. Rather than forcing police officers to be on the front lines of mental health emergencies, the co-responders can assess people’s health and help them receive the appropriate care.

Councilman Logan Heley said the property tax increase amounts to about “another Starbucks coffee” a month for an average homeowner, which he felt was a small price to pay to provide mental health responders, who will be available at all times, to the police department.

“I think that is pretty good value for your tax dollar,” Heley said.

The $327.5 million budget also adds detectives, patrol officers, community policing officers and other police personnel.

In total, the city will add nearly 53 full-time employees, including fire department positions and more staff at the Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. New revenue also will be used to improve the city’s cybersecurity.

Councilman Scott Hamblin, who opposed the tax increase, was the only no vote.

Also Monday night, the City Council discussed a plan for replacing retiring City Manager Bill Ebel. Officials are expected to select a search firm later this fall.

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