Updated: August 16, 2019 09:02 PM
A new law enforcement partnership in the east metro is working to give people struggling with their mental health more access to help.
In January, West St. Paul Police and South St. Paul Police started a pilot program with Dakota County Social Services. A specialized team responds to mental health crisis calls and follows up with people who've interacted with police because of their mental health.
"It's really trying to connect those people back together because a lot of times people fall through the cracks," said Kalyn Bassett, a licensed clinical social worker with Dakota County. "They don't necessarily fit into one perfect system and they don't know how to navigate it."
Bassett works out of both police departments.
"When the officers review their reports, they provide them to me and say, 'I think it might be mental health related,' we'll go and follow up," she said. "I'll look in the county's system and see what services does this person already have, is there history with this person?"
She said it helps her know what to ask clients when she approaches them with the officers.
"So, if you have a case manager, what's going on? Is this a good relationship? Have you been in touch with your case manager? Do you mind if I reach out to your case manager?"
Bassett has worked about 400 cases since the pilot program started.
"There are a lot of struggles for people and a lot of different circumstances that go into why they do what they do," said Officer Jesse Mettner, with West St. Paul Police.
He said by developing relationships, it also helps other officers who are responding to crisis calls.
"We are able to pass along information like, they're startled by loud noises or they're nonverbal or they like to gravitate toward water when they wander, so look for them there," said Mettner.
And, it's reduced the burden on dispatchers, EMS crews and law enforcement.
"Some of the calls that previously would've been 911 calls ... that were more likely to be the 'I'm dissatisfied with this service I'm getting,' 'I need to talk to somebody because I'm not feeling great today,' some people call 911 for those things and those are the ones that are directly coming to us now," he said.
Officer Mettner meets with Janice Erickson at least every month, with several phone calls between meetings.
"I want to live, live, live until I can't anymore," said Erickson. "So I'm grateful for this."
Erickson has been on a mental health journey her entire life. In 2000, she was also diagnosed with Parkinson's.
"Especially when you have a chronic illness and life isn't going quite as planned, I don't have family, and it's just so gratifying to know people like this will be here," she said.
Mettner's visits with her began last year after someone called 911 and Erickson was placed on a 72-hour hold.
"The way it turned out that I got the help I needed, was that Officer Mettner came by the assisted living facility with his business card," she said. "He came by the next day to make sure I had gotten it and he's been here ever since."
When the pilot program started, Bassett started going to the visits as well.
"I really want people to understand they can be happy no matter how long they've been ill, no matter how they've been treated, it is possible to be happy," said Erickson.
For South St. Paul Police Officer Derek Kruse, the experience on this team has changed his perspective.
"Very, very, very few people with even the most severe mental illness are violent," said Kruse.
On July 19, 2018, he was shot during an encounter with a suspect. Officer Kruse had been called in as backup after a missing person returned to a South St. Paul group home.
"I got there first, made contact with the staff and they just said that this guy was going to freak out when police were there," he said.
According to investigators, Dustin Bilderback opened fire on officers. Kruse and another officer were injured.
"After the fact, I was just so angry, how could this have happened," he said.
After the shooting, the department created a community engagement position. Kruse applied and got it.
"I was like, 'how do I prevent this from happening to anyone else I work with,'" he said.
Kruse said he believes if the pilot program was in place last year, that officer-involved shooting may not have happened. He said he hopes their work can help people in a mental health crisis have a positive experience with police.
"That the police are there to help you, police care and let's get you connected so you can live the best life could possibly live and have the services that you need," he said.
The program runs through the end of the year. It's unclear whether it will be funded after that, but this team hopes it will.
In the Twin Cities metro area, call **CRISIS (**274747) from a cell phone to talk to a team of professionals who can help you.
Crisis Text Line offers free help for those who are having a mental health crisis or are contemplating suicide. Just text MN to 741741. Services are available 24/7 across Minnesota.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a toll-free number: 800-273-TALK (8255).
Updated: August 16, 2019 09:02 PM
Published: August 16, 2019 12:00 AM
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