Police chief explores alternatives to 911 for some residents in need

Mendota Heights Police Chief Kelly McCarthy made a recent post on social media that is gaining attention.

McCarthy posted on the department’s Facebook page earlier in the week about a meeting she’d like to have with caregivers of those with family members on the autism spectrum or a neurodiverse relative about starting a support group as an alternative to calling 911 for help in certain situations.

"As you look at instances around the country of police officers using force on people on the autism spectrum or who are neurodiverse —there’s a lot of consternation — rightfully so about the way police departments apply force," said McCarthy.

McCarthy is planning on having a virtual meeting next week with those who signed up to discuss possible options to create a new support group with the goal of helping those experiencing stressful situations in the home.

"We’re in the really early stages of maybe getting a network of caregivers — who could be that first line of support for one another," McCarthy said. “We’re just looking at ways to ease that burden in our community."

"Having an option and having resources for families dealing with neurodiversity that doesn’t involve calling 911 is one of the most vital steps we can take to supporting families,” said Jillian Nelson, a community resource and policy advocate with the Autism Society of Minnesota.

Nelson said families with loved ones on the spectrum often struggle about calling authorities in certain situations out concern about the encounter, what neighbors might think or the emotional stress on their loved one.

That’s why Nelson supports communities having discussions about trying to find more ways to help families in need.

"We’re very overdue as a state to talk about alternatives to police responding to these behavioral calls," Nelson said.

"I don’t know how it’s going to shake out," Chief McCarthy said. “I do just want to hear from the community on what those options could look like."

If you’d like to be involved in the community discussion with McCarthy, email kellym@mendota-heights.com.

Details of next week’s meeting with the chief are still in the works.