Source: KBOE Radio

As Senator Joni Ernst continues her 99 County Tour through Iowa, she made two pit stops on Tuesday in southeast Iowa. Her first stop was a public town hall meeting in Washington, she heard from constituents about issues most important to them.

From Washington, Ernst made her way west to Sigourney where she met with local law enforcement from southeast Iowa.

Representatives from over nine sheriff’s offices were present, including Davis, Louisa, Mahaska, Keokuk, Wapello, Henry, and Washington county to name a few. Local police departments also sat in on the meeting, such as officers from Sigourney, Burlington, Ottumwa, and Mount Pleasant.

As the meeting began shortly after 2 PM, Ernst opened the floor to law enforcement in the room to voice their opinions and concerns. Hushed whispers fell over the room. Mahaska County Sheriff Russ Van Renterghem broke the silence and addressed Ernst with a top issue in Iowa: the mental health care system.

Sheriff Renterghem noted that most hospitals will refuse immediate treatment of arrested individuals with mental health or substance abuse problems.

“That is probably one of the most complicated issues we have right now. […],” said Ernst. “It is a federal issue, state and local issue as well.”

Many of the Iowa residents suffer from substance abuse, which inevitably ends with mental health issues. A large portion of those in Iowa that have mental health illnesses are also involved with Veteran Affairs.

Multiple representatives from county sheriff offices noted that services from the VA cease once the individual is apprehended. Therefore monetary aid and rehabilitation services stop as well.

Departments all across the southeast portion of Iowa have teamed up to allocate funds and build up a program together.

“Collectively there has been a real strong effort with a lot of sheriffs and chiefs in southeast Iowa to build resources so law enforcement has some positive tools to use toward battling some of that issue,” Darren Grimshaw, Burlington Police Department.

In order to receive better programs for individuals, it takes collaborative efforts.

With the growing opioid and methamphetamine problem in Iowa, law enforcement and emergency services have realized that many of substance abusers suffer from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

As the conversation between Joni Ernst and law enforcement ensued, the topic of Byrne-JAG arose. Byrne-JAG is the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant which is administered through the federal level of the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) in partnership with State Administering Agencies (SAAs). The program of Byrne-JAG, which is typically utilized by local or state agencies. With the assistance of Byrne-JAG, local and state law enforcement can break the recurrence of substance abuse and crime associated with it.

The short meeting ended with a recap of what was discussed. Senator Joni Ernst ask for takeaways from the meeting, which were: mental health and substance abuse, Byrne-JAG and veteran availability,. Ernst promised she would take the law enforcement officials’ voices to Washington.

“I got a lot to work on,” Ernst stated as she closed the meeting.