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South Jordan officer trained in mental health thinks new bill will make a difference

SOUTH JORDAN, Utah – There are parts of the job police officers love.

Giving stickers to children is one of them.

“It’s exciting to me. It’s very exciting,” said Sgt. Josh Whatcott, as three children and their mother approached him at a South Jordan park Wednesday afternoon.

Helping people is why Whatcott got into the job.

However, in the past few years, he has really started helping people on a deeper level.

Especially when it comes to mental illness.

“Mental health doesn’t define these people. Underneath that, there’s really a human. There’s really a person with feelings just like you and I that has emotions, that is happy and sad, that’s human,” Whatcott said.

Any police officer will tell you they deal with people suffering from some type of mental illness almost every day.

Often, though, they’re not properly trained to handle those types of calls.

“We try and do our best and we de-escalate. We potentially pink slip somebody, but we’re not really the resource to help those people with mental illnesses,” Whatcott said.

However, Whatcott is trained.

He’s close to earning his master’s degree in social work to help those with mental illness.

It’s made a difference in those types of calls he responds to.

In fact, he keeps in touch with a person who was suffering from mental illness, who was a kind of nuisance and problem for her neighborhood three years ago.

She was really creating a lot of problems for the community, our officers were continually having to respond, so I took it upon myself as to what can we really do to avoid these responses, how can we appease the community, and how can we get her some help,” he said. “Now she’s great today. I had coffee with her this morning and she’s just a completely different person. She’s thrilled to be feeling good and feeling happy and not feeling the way that she felt.”

It’s why he’s excited for a new bill Governor Gary Herbert signed Tuesday.

The bill deals with sending those trained in mental health as first responders, instead of just police officer, for those types of calls involving someone having a mental health crisis.

“It’s a great program, and I’m excited it’s been signed in and I think we’re going to do some good things with it,” said Whatcott. “It’s a community issue, and that’s why I’m so happy about this bill that’s been passed because it’s a community effort. You can donate money and donate your tax returns, and there is so many things you can do to help fund this program to make it successful for all these people.”

Whatcott says, 10 years ago, the person he helped might have been sent to jail because there weren’t any other easily accessible options.

“Jail isn’t the answer. That just exacerbates everything. We have to get them to where they’re contributing to society instead of continuing to be a problem or a nuisance as people would think,” he said. “I’m so excited for something this big. I think it’s just the start of something that’s going to be great.”

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