Joachim Seelos is the new mental liaison to the Iowa City Police Department, a role that he says will help reduce unnecessary arrests and assist community members experiencing crisis.
After Black Lives Matter protests in Iowa City in 2020, Iowa City City Council announced its plan to restructure the police, which included adding the mental health liaison position.
Marion and Cedar Rapids already have mental health liaisons that work with their police departments.
Seelos wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that he worked with homeless youth for seven years after earning a degree in criminal justice and a minor in social work from Park University.
“I was raised in a Creole family in Louisiana,” he wrote. “My father is African American and my mother is white.”
He has a diverse background as a member of the Deaf and the LGBTQ community, he wrote, which he believes will help him in this position serve as a source of assistance to community members as they go through mental health crises.
“This is not only an effort but a desire to work together because in reality each and [every] one of us has experienced a type of crisis in our lives where we know how that can affect us to the core,” Seelos wrote.
CommUnity Crisis and Food Bank will be collaborating with the police and Foundation 2, another crisis service, which is supporting the project as well.
In a news release, the city said that this partnership is intended to avoid unnecessary arrests, decrease law enforcement contact, and make sure the community has access to the correct resources.
“We feel this is a step in the right direction to provide much-needed services to those experiencing a mental health crisis that does not involve the traditional law enforcement response,” Police Chief Dustin Liston said in the release. “We are hopeful that with early intervention by the LE Liaison, the potential for negative outcomes will be reduced.”
Seelos added his position will be able to decrease repeat 911 calls.
CommUnity Crisis and Food Bank’s Executive Director Sarah Nelson said in an email to The Daily Iowan that Seelos brings experience to the role and will be able to support the community in rough times.
“CommUnity is pleased to partner with the Iowa City Police Department for the implementation of the Mental Health/LE Liaison position,” she wrote. “We look forward to working together to best meet the needs of those in our community experiencing a mental health crisis.”
Sgt. Andrew McKnight, a staff member of the Iowa City Police Department’s Planning, Research, Public Information Office, said the police department is looking for ways to strengthen how the department interacts with community members experiencing mental health crises, in an email to the DI.
“Joah will respond in the field to a variety of mental health calls and will also provide valuable follow-up services as he looks to connect those in crisis with much-needed services,” McKnight wrote.
The need for more mental health assistance has always existed in communities according to Adrianne Korbakes, the mobile crisis outreach program manager at Foundation 2.
Korbakes said that after the COVID-19 pandemic, additional mental health support is important.
“I really think that the goal of the collaboration is just to help meet the needs of individuals in our communities,” Korbakes said.
Seelos wrote that he will be able to approach trauma in an informed way in his new position.
“The end result will build trust among clients, the community, and organizations,” Seelos wrote.