ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — St. Paul Police are stepping up their effort to respond better to mental health calls.
The department is creating a new unit comprised of officers who’ve received special training to deal with mental health issues. They’re also trying a new approach to interact with residents with known mental health issues.
Officer Jamie Sipes is the St. Paul Police Department’s mental health liaison. He regularly leads discussions about the challenges police officers face as they deal with people in crisis.
“We don’t know what everybody has,” he said. “Many of us have different things that we deal with at some point in our lives. One in five people at some point in their life will deal with a mental illness.”
St. Paul Police say they’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of calls they receive involving a mental health concern. In 2006 that number was 5,693. In 2016 it was 12,345.
“If we are going to be involved in those, let’s be involved in the beginning, when the person has that first break, first psychosis episode, or the first instance where they need to be connect with resources. Let’s help there,” Officer Sipes said.
We’ve seen cases in the last few years where someone living with mental illness has been arrested, or even shot and killed.
By creating a mental health unit, the police department will work more closely with Ramsey County mental health professionals to connect people with the help they need. They will also inform patrol officers about neighborhood residents who are living with some form of mental illness, and create ways for them to meet before there’s an emergency.
Alyssa Conducy is the manager of Adult Mental Health for Ramsey County.
“When we partner, we are not only able to get them treatment quicker, but we are also able to help avoid involvement with the criminal justice system,” she said.
The St. Paul Police Department’s mental health unit is expected to be up and running in the next six months.