Sheriff reappointed to state mental health council

Becky Vargo • Mar 30, 2019 at 2:00 PM

Steve Kempker says representing his community by serving on various boards is all part of the job.

The Ottawa County sheriff was recently reappointed to a state board that gives him the opportunity to effect his department, as well as the community, he said — so he’s all in.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has reappointed Kempker to the Mental Health Diversion Council for a term expiring Jan. 30, 2023.

The council is housed within the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and helps strengthen the state's mental health system. It offers solutions to improve services for Michiganders living with mental health conditions to help ensure better quality of life, safety and independence, according to a progress report from 2018.

“We are also working hard on getting mental health training to law enforcement across the state for dealing with persons on mental health incident-type calls,” Kempker said. “We also are looking at training in the police academies.”

In fact, a pilot program was conducted at the Grand Valley State University Police Academy last year, the sheriff said. The program shares information on how to recognize and deal with a mental heath incident, and gives the tools to work with that.

Kempker emphasized the importance of training academy recruits, as well as giving continuing education to current police officers.

“We’re dealing with a lot of retirements right now,” he said of the Sheriff’s Office, “so, we have a lot of new law enforcement. There’s lots of education needed.”

Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office personnel participate in trainings in-house at least once every two years, Kempker said.

“We continuously send people to off-site training,” he added. “That’s important because we deal with mental health calls daily. We also deal with mental health issues with people in jail.”

The sheriff said the goal is to make sure inmates receive help while in jail, along with proper contact information, tools and a plan when they leave.

“That’s the key. When they get out, the help is out there for them,” he said.

The only other police officer on the state board is Norton Shores Police Chief Jon Gale. Representatives from different courts and mental health agencies are also on the board.

“We talk about what programs work and don’t work,” Kempker said. “It’s also a learning experience for us.”

Kempker said there’s a strong correlation between mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, and child abuse.

“It’s an ongoing battle,” he said. 

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