Over the last weeks and months, we have heard the demands across the country to change how law enforcement does its job. Locally, community members have rallied and spoken about practices that disproportionately impact people of color. At the same time, others in our community and across the country have spoken to the need to support law enforcement, pointing to departments with limited numbers of officers available within the community or available to staff detention facilities.
While these groups may seem to have interests that are polar opposites, there is a middle ground where law enforcement officers CAN “serve and protect” and CAN demonstrate a fundamental respect for those with whom they interact. A big part of that equation is providing law enforcement with the resources they need—and I’m not talking about weapons. I’m talking about training and other resources. And, yes, I’m talking about more officers too.
This topic was front and center for me yesterday, July 28th, as I listened to my friend and colleague, Steve Hollis, the Human Services Manager for the City/County Health Department, participate in a webinar sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) GAINS Center for Behavioral Health and Justice Transformation, a Center within the US Department of Health and Human Services. The topic of the webinar was data sharing, particularly among law enforcement, behavioral health, and other social service agencies. In his presentation, Steve focused on the work that we have been doing here in Boone County, work on which I am passionately committed. He started that discussion by listing many of the projects in which we have been engaged since 2014, when Boone County joined the National Association of Counties’ (NACo’s) Stepping Up Initiative.
The Stepping Up Initiative was created because of the disproportionate rate at which individuals with behavioral health issues across the country are involved in the criminal justice system and detained in our county jails. These individuals are detained for longer periods of time, re-offend at higher rates, and have worse results than other individuals facing the same charges.
I recognized that Boone County was no different in this respect than other jurisdictions. Our jail was the largest mental health facility in the county, and more resources—from law enforcement, to prosecutors and public defenders, to the court system, to the jail itself—were expended on this population. This further meant that our annual county budget was significantly impacted, as such a large percentage of revenues fund those core governmental activities.
Given those individual and community impacts, we knew we had to do better. I knew we COULD do better. So, I took the lead in joining the Stepping Up Initiative and together, with many partners, we began the journey. Steve’s listing of Boone County’s projects and activities was, in large part, an acknowledgement and celebration of those partnerships and collaborations over the past six years.
Do we need more resources? The answer is a resounding YES. We must critically analyze how people become involved in the justice system—from juveniles to adults—and determine what resources will keep them from that trajectory. We must give law enforcement the resources necessary, from training to personnel, to help them make appropriate decisions. And we must continue the candid, open conversations, knowing that only through authentic conversations can we implement positive change.
For additional information regarding the Stepping Up Initiative in Boone County and Janet’s involvement in it, see the following media links:
Boone County Commissioner Appointed to National Committee
(Boone County Journal, July 29, 2020)
Data-Driven Justice Community Portrait: Commissioner Janet Thompson
(National Association of Counties, June 30, 2020)
Boone County Works To Provide Mental Health Programs To The Community
(Columbia Missourian, Jan 20, 2020)
Stepping Up Initiative: Special Topics Case Studies
(National Association of Counties, Dec 12, 2019)
Boone County Joins White House’s Data-Driven Justice Initiative
(ShowMeBoone.com Press Release, Oct 19, 2016)
Boone County Steps Up On Mental Health Issues
(KOMU, Oct 6, 2016)
Thompson Hopes to Continue Mental Health Initiative With Second Term
(Columbia Tribune, Oct 2, 2016)
Special Report: Breaking the Cycle
(ABC17News, May 13, 2016)