Consistently, two of the most important services that Johnson County residents expect and demand are emergency response and mental health support. This covers a wide range of needs including police and fire departments, mental health interventions, the sheriff’s office, and disaster preparedness.
We all want to be able to trust that our community is a safe place.
Many times, the debate about public safety gets reduced to one of carrots vs. sticks. How should we prioritize the laws to be enforced? What’s the right balance between mental health interventions, rehabilitation, budget investments in law enforcement, and community-focused programs?
At the state level, we have a responsibility to discuss and lead on public safety and health issues from a more strategic perspective. Crime prevention and enforcement, mental health services, and public health services work best when working together.
- Mental health: In 2020, Kansas ranked last in the nation for adult and youth mental health rates, and next-to-last in youth substance abuse rates. Research is still underway to understand the impact of COVID on mental health, but even ignoring the pandemic there are clear shortcomings in our overall strategy.
- School safety: Despite recent trends to increase the presence of school resource officers on K-12 campuses, there’s actually very little conclusive research on its impact on school shootings and campus violence. We should be actively interested in such research, and be searching for best practices.
- Public health: Our community’s response to the COVID pandemic was hotly debated, and we’re still recovering from the erosion of trust in each other and our institutions. Trust is critical in any future emergency; we must invest in the transparency and communication required to rebuild that trust.