ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — The St. Paul Police Department is leading the way with a plan to help people before they’re in crisis.

It’s a Mental Health Unit, pairing specially-trained officers with licensed social workers.

The teams aren’t only the first on scene when someone is in crisis, but as WCCO’s Reg Chapman shows us, they’re also making sure people get access to the help they need.

A sergeant, three officers and two social workers make up St. Paul’s new front line in the battle against mental illness.

“She apparently had been running through the alley and they took her to the hospital,” Sgt. Jamie Sipes with the Mental Health Unit said.

Law enforcement across the country are looking for different ways to respond to mental health calls. This is St. Paul’s answer to being proactive and not reactive when someone is in crisis.

“We partner a specially-trained police officer with a social worker who is a licensed clinical social worker, and they respond to calls as they come in,” Sipes said.

Sgt. Jamie Sipes heads up the unit. He says there are times when a police officer is not the best professional to send to a call for help.

“You have the true crisis going on and we bring the expertise to that call,” Sipes said.

Officer Justin Tiffany and Social Worker Kara Haroldson use an unmarked vehicle to travel from one call to another. A softer approach than responding with flashing lights and sirens.

Since 2006, the number of mental health calls has doubled in St. Paul.

“So kind of what we hope to do is get people connected with things and kind of decrease the amount the emergency room is used for,” Kara Haroldson said.

It’s believed people who access community resources for mental health do much better than those confined to hospitals. On this trip, they check up on someone who they’ve had previous contact with.

They are working together to get people the resources they need.

“We are all a part of this team that is trying to address mental illness and if we are not communicating, that’s a barrier to our own success,” Officer Justin Tiffany said.

Salaries for social workers in the mental health unit are paid by community partners, Regions Hospital and People, Inc. St. Paul police hopes to expand the unit by adding more officers and social workers.

They’re hoping more community partners will step forward to make that happen.

Reg Chapman

  1. Chris Shaw says:

    While the program the St. Paul Police Department has developed is a huge step in the right direction towards responding appropriately to ‘crisis calls’ that may involve a mental health component, the ability for law enforcement teams to truly ‘understand’ what a person might be dealing with PRIOR to personal engagement is paramount. Currently in use by the St. Paul PD, is a technology tool called Vitals™ that allows officers to receive a profile of any individual utilizing a “beacon”, which provides critical information on possible conditions, triggers and de-escalation techniques among other details. This new app, which is available free to the public, can arm officers with essential data, volunteered by users before they even come in direct contact with a person involved in a call. Whether the crisis is based on a mental health condition, or even something as simple as an allergic reaction (my son uses it due to his severe peanut allergy), this system is designed to allow Police access to crucial insights that can change the course of action for the officer, and outcomes for the individuals.

    Christopher M. Shaw
    CPS|CHF|WRAP Facilitator|MHFA Trainer

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