Bridging Gaps in Mental Health Crisis Response: Omaha Police Department’s ‘Frank Unit’

by Vins
Published: Updated:

The “Frank Unit” is an integral part of the police force in Omaha, Nebraska, Yanqi Xu, an investigative reporter at the Flatwater Free Press, reported in February 2024. Established in 2020 and, as of 2024 funded by the City of Omaha, the life-saving unit aids Omaha police officers in responding to the surge in mental health issues. Deployed alongside law enforcement, mental health professionals in the Frank Unit assist in a wide array of situations, from accompanying homeless individuals to shelters to consoling victims of crime and providing support for people experiencing mental health crises.

Operating within the Omaha Police Department’s Behavioral Health and Wellness Unit, co-responders play a crucial role in solving mental health “mysteries” and providing follow-up care for those with mental illnesses. Their approach fosters trust, particularly among individuals hesitant to engage with law enforcement directly.

Mental health-related calls comprise nearly one-third of the department’s responses, according to Sergeant Jason Heft, who co-leads the Behavioral Health and Wellness Unit. In 2023, the six members of the unit made 1,322 in-person interactions with local residents in a potential mental health crisis.

As of March 27, 2024, there appears to have been no national news coverage of the Omaha Police Department’s mental health co-responders. In August 2022, the local ABC News affiliate, KETV, featured a story about how mental health co-responders working with Omaha police helped protect a woman in crisis. Flatwater Free Press, an independent, nonprofit news organization, appears to be among the few news outlet to have covered the story. Nevertheless, the positive impact of the Omaha Police Department’s Frank Unit, which has helped thousands of individuals to date, deserves wider attention, as a model of how police departments in other cities might better serve the needs of their communities. The Appeal, a nonprofit news organization focused on public safety, republished Yanqi Xu’s original report.

Source: Yanqi Xu, “Calling for Frank: Little-Known Police Unit Helps Omahans In Crisis. That Includes Me.” Flatwater Free Press, February 1, 2024.

Student Researchers: Qualeem Charles, Will Fantasia, Emma Larivee, and Matt Nunes (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)