Hannah Cowles: On Coordinating Community Mental Health Services

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March 2022

This month, we are pleased to feature Carmel Police Department’s (CPD) first official crisis intervention manager who is responsible for community mental health services coordination and management for residents in need.

Carmel resident Hannah Cowles is originally from West Lafayette, Indiana, and graduated from Purdue University with a Bachelor of Science degree in child development in 2000. Cowles earned her master’s degree in social work from Aurora University in Illinois in 2005.

Cowles previously worked at the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV), where she has served as a policy director since 2019. Prior to working at the BMV, she worked as a deputy section chief for Indiana Department of Homeland Security from 2016 to 2019. Cowles and her husband have been residents of Carmel since 2013, and their two children attend Carmel schools.

Hannah Cowles

Developing a Passion for Social Services

“I’ve always valued public service and have been my happiest when I’m working with people and families,” Cowles expressed. “So, social work was just a natural fit.”

Cowles’ father was on faculty at Purdue University, where she grew up on campus and later earned her bachelor’s degree. Before becoming a dedicated social worker, Cowles began her career as a juvenile probation officer in a suburb of Chicago.

“It was a phenomenal experience and really innovative department,” Cowles shared. “I was also getting my master’s [degree] while I was working full time. I got my MSW [Master of Social Work] in 2005. And then we came back to Indiana when I had my first child, and I completed my Ph.D. coursework through the IU School of Social Work and went to work at the state for the past seven years. I really focused on program development and implementation, which really prepared me for this position with Carmel. It could not be a better fit.”

Recognizing the Need for a Mentally Healthy Community

As the city of Carmel’s population continues to grow, CPD recognizes the need for providing additional mental health services for the community and relieving its officers from coordinating these services, which was the catalyst for hiring Cowles.

“I think people are becoming more aware of mental health and the need to address that,” CPD Lt. Tim Byrne stated. “It’s been a trend over the last few years where the number of mental health issues and people in crisis that we’ve been dealing with has been on a steady rise.”

Byrne stated that the pandemic and current national and international affairs are not helping matters with regard to people’s mental health. He also emphasized that bringing on a crisis intervention manager such as Cowles has been something the department identified as needing and began looking at a couple of years ago.

“It’s been in the works for a couple of years,” Byrne said. “The [CPD] staff and the city both recognize that there is a need for this, and the hope is, if we bring on someone such as Hannah—who is extremely qualified to deal with these types of things and put together a really solid program for the department—we could begin to address these issues and eventually get out in front of them. We can get services to the people that need them and address the [mental health] issues that they’re having, and we can free up our officers so that they can address other criminal matters and keep our crime numbers down.”

Byrne continued, “We can provide citizens with the assistance that they need so that we don’t have to go back out there on a later date and deal with another [mental health-related] issue. It’s all about the welfare of the citizens of Carmel as well. That’s the end goal—we want people to be healthy, and we don’t want things like suicide and those types of things happening. So, the more that we can do to address those issues and get those people the assistance that they need, it’s better for them and it’s better for us as an agency.”

Cowles thanked the mayor and both chiefs of CPD and Carmel Fire Department for having the forward thinking to create the position of crisis intervention manager.

“I’d like to thank Mayor Brainard and Chiefs Horner and Haboush for their support in creating this position,” Cowles stated. “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for their leadership. So, I really appreciate that they were so innovative and able to create this position.”

Moving the Needle in Terms of Coordinating Services

“Whenever I go out to a home, I have Sgt. Phil Hobson with me, who is phenomenal,” Cowles said. “Between the two of us, we figure out who we need to get involved. For example, if I get called out on a hoarding situation, we will call code enforcement because they are phenomenal at what they do, too.”

Cowles added, “Phil has almost 28 years on the job and was an SRO with that unit for almost 15 years. He knows everybody, which is great because that really helps me. He’s a lovely person, and we are a good team.”

Cowles shared the studies and statistics that she follows state that 1 out of every 5 people has a mental illness.

Hannah Cowles

“But that doesn’t accurately capture how many people are impacted by that person with mental illness,” Cowles emphasized. “My point is mental illness touches all of us in some way, shape or form. Community engagement is so important. Phil and I are great, but we can’t do it all. People tend to take a step back from folks in crisis, but those people who are struggling really need people who are willing to step forward and have a kind heart and open ear. Kindness has been the catalyst for someone to make a really important change on their pathway to recovery, so this work is really important. And community engagement can look like volunteering at a mental health organization, a crisis line, social change through a mental health campaign or just checking in on people that you love. There are so many ways that people can actually make a difference in their world and in Carmel.”