Watertown mental health officer helps those in mental health crisis

During a summer time hydrant party, mental health officer Buysse speaks with a child who recently lost his mother in a traffic wreck.

Police officers work with people experiencing their darkest days and toughest times. To help keep themselves and their community safe, they need to know how to handle a wide variety of situations.

To that end, the Watertown Police Department now has an officer who helps with the mental and emotional well-being of the community.

Addressing a mental health crisis with the right resources to defuse a situation and begin healing is one of the most important tools at a police officer’s disposal. That’s why, in January 2021, Alexis Buysse became Watertown’s first mental health police officer.

“Mental health calls were always something I was passionate about,” said Buysse. “If I was not the one sent to it, I was trying to be the backup officer. I am trying to help these people.”

Buysse is a Lake Area Technical College graduate. She graduated from the law enforcement program in 2016 and immediately joined the police department.

For several years, she worked as a patrol officer. After the department created the mental health officer position with a federal Community Oriented Policing grant, Buysse was eager to apply.

Buysse

“With mental health being something that I have always enjoyed on the patrol side of things, this was right up my alley,” said Buysse. “When you’re a police officer, you’re always looking for that next step in your career. Do you want to become a detective or a sergeant?”

For Buysse, it was was focusing on mental health.

She has been defining the unique role as a mental health officer for the past year. The scope of the position is a new concept. The Sioux Falls Police Department is the only other police force in South Dakota with a law enforcement officer specifically tasked with addressing mental health crises.

Buysse turned to the police department in Madison, Wis., For help with the new position. The Madison Police Department has a well-established unit of several officers dedicated to mental health and proved a valuable resource for Watertown when developing Buysse’s role.

Mental health police officer Alexis Buysse works closely with area schools to provide resources and education to students.

“They helped show how to start the process with a memorandum of understanding with the local counseling services and the schools. They showed me what their day to day was like and what my day to day should be,” she said.

Taking available training that addressed law enforcement and mental health also helped develop the position.

“Unfortunately, there is no mental health officer training,” said Buysse. “Hopefully, there will be one day and more agencies will create this position. It is helpful.”

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