La Crosse Police Department, county create mental health crisis response program

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — Some police officers in La Crosse are pairing up with mental health professionals on calls for service.

This new partnership between La Crosse Police Department and La Crosse County Health Department will allow those in crisis quicker access to the help they need.

“We’ve realized that the demands of responding to people in mental health crisis have increased,” La Crosse Police Chief Shawn Kudron.

This program is the first in the county, and La Crosse Police Capt. Avrie Schott said the departments plan to evaluate it along the way.

“This is a pilot program and we are going to grow from this,” Schott said. “Hopefully, a year from now we have learned… and are so successful that we are expanding this, because this is something that is needed in our community.”

Because officers have so much to focus on when responding to calls, Crisis Unit Supervisor Angela Smith thinks this will make a difference for both co-responders.

“It’s not always just as simple as a crime occurring, there’s so many more elements,” Smith said. “It allows someone who has expertise in mental health to really come in and look at it through that lens, while the officer is still looking at it through an officer lens.”

Crisis co-responder Hans Wagner has already been on a call every day and worked on multiple follow-up mental health calls. He said the first few days have been good, but challenging, and sees the benefits of the program already.

“We can bring resources, such as police officers and ourselves, together to go and talk with people, provide them with the resources they need and the assistance they need to try and make a more long-term impact in that person’s life,” he said.

Officials also hope that the partnership will prevent incarceration.

“These are going to help divert some of those with mental health crises from our criminal justice system and help them get the help they need faster—and in a much better way,” La Crosse Mayor Mitch Reynolds said.