JOCO United holds first public meeting

With the death of then BVNW junior John Albers in Jan. 2018, Sheila Albers helped form the citizen advocacy group, JOCO United. They held their first meeting on Aug. 29.

Anna Cowden and Ethan Knauth

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After the death of her son, John Albers, in Jan. 2018, Sheila Albers helped form the citizen advocacy group, JOCO United, in order to enact change within the police department and community. The group held its first meeting tonight in the Scheels Overland Park Soccer Complex fieldhouse.

Overland Park police officers were called to John’s house on Jan. 20 after receiving a call that the 17-year-old was suicidal. As Albers was backing out of his driveway in his family’s minivan, he was shot and killed by one of the police officers.

A month following Albers’ death, Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe announced the shooting was justified after a multi-jurisdictional investigation.

The Albers sued the officer and the city following the justification. The lawsuit is pending.

JOCO United’s mission states the advocacy group is committed to “fostering partnerships between law enforcement, government, and the community to improve safety, transparency, and mental health response.”

As Sheila spoke at the group’s first meeting, she thanked the packed room for attending, with her voice breaking as she described her gratitude to the attendees.

“We are here tonight because we want to see change, we want to see better training for our first-responders and we want to see our government interact with us in an open, and transparent manner,” Sheila said. “We love you, and we’re very grateful you’re here.”

President of Joco United, Mark Schmid told BVNWNews there is power in numbers as he looks to grow the group’s numbers.

“The more people we have out here bugging the city council, they’re going to understand that this isn’t just some individual,” Schmid said. “An individual they can set aside, but if there is a group of folks that have a common goal, and if it’s large enough, we can really make a difference.”

Senior and close friend of Albers, Paige Fleming, said she attended the meeting to show her support to the Albers family.

“I want to be a part of this change,” Fleming said. “I want to help our community and strengthen it.”

During the meeting, board member Cari Burmaster said OPPD needs more of its officers to go through Crisis Intervention Training (CIT). She used the San Antonio CIT trained police officers as an example for what the group wants OPPD to strive for. CIT training is aimed to give officers knowledge on how to de-escalate and diffuse mental health situations.

“So what San Antonio has done is they’ve really embraced the Crisis Intervention Training program,” Brumaster said. “ So for Johnson County, what we want to do is we want to be able to raise money so that we can help get more police officers trained with the CIT training.”

Along with more CIT trained-officers, Sheila said she wants more Johnson County co-responders hired. There were no co-responders available when her son was killed on a Saturday, because no Johnson County co-responders were deployed on weekends.

Sheila told BVNWnews after the meeting the group is comprised of 12 members, with herself serving as the secretary. She said the group is not just another “protest group.”

“We’re not a protest group,” Sheila said. “You’re not going to see us show up somewhere with protest signs because that goes nowhere. We have plans and things we want to change within the system. We’re not screaming into the wind.”

The next meeting is scheduled to take place Sept. 27. Sheila said the next location is TBA.