Pairing Social Workers with Police: A Look at the KCKPD CIT Co-Responder Program

December 2, 2020

Across the country, there has been much discussion about who should respond to mental health crises that are reported to 911: social workers or police officers. At the Kansas City, Kansas Police Department, officers have been working alongside a social worker for the past seven years. Even though the program has been around for a while, there are many community members who don’t know this partnership exists.

“A lot of people are surprised that this is what we do. They don’t even know that we’re here,” says Andrea Kesler, CIT Co-Responder.

“We are ahead of a lot of police departments,” says CIT Officer Nicole Ortego. “It is a national hot topic – having social workers work with the police department. It is actually a huge asset to the police department. We have noticed a huge difference with Andrea working with us.”

The Kansas City, Kansas Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Co-Responder program began in 2013. For the past year, Andrea Kesler, a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) with Wyandot Center, has been working alongside KCKPD CIT Officer Nicole Ortego. Together, Kesler and Ortego work to connect individuals in crisis to the services and resources they need.

“This is a community collaboration between the police department and Wyandot Center to let our community know that we’re here for them and can offer services and other ways to help,” says Ortego. “We’re not out here to put people in jail.”

Kesler and Ortego say each situation they respond to is different, but their focus is the same: providing trauma-informed care to anyone they encounter. Recently, Officer Ortego received approval to get out of her police uniform. She now wears a polo that identifies her as the department’s CIT officer. She and Kesler also ride in an unmarked police car.

“It’s a lot more trauma-informed,” says Kesler. “A lot of the people we meet with, they’ve been in the system since they were teenagers and so they have a lot of past trauma and bad police contact. Having [Officer Ortego] out of uniform has made a big difference. People are a lot more willing to approach her and talk to her.”

When Kesler and Ortego respond to a call, they work together to let the individual know that help is available and connect them to services. On some occasions, when an individual is in the middle of a major crisis, Kesler or Ortego will take that person to RSI or a hospital so they can receive more intensive services.

The Kansas City, Kansas Police Department is working toward a goal of having 100 percent of its officers CIT-trained. Right now, about 85 percent of KCKPD officers have received the 40-hour CIT training.

If someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, Kesler and Ortego say you shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to 911. When you call, they say you should give the dispatcher as much information as possible about the individual’s past mental health history, any hospitalizations, violent history and access to weapons. They say you should also request a CIT officer to respond to the scene. You can also reach out to Wyandot Center or Wyandot’s 24/7 crisis line: 913-788-4200.