St. Paul Police Launch New Unit Focused on Mental Health

April 02, 2018 04:59 PM

The St. Paul Police Department launched a new unit that's dedicated to mental health.

After a year-long pilot program, the unit officially started in March. 


"We look at calls from a different lens, a different perspective," St. Paul Police Sgt. Jamie Sipes said.

The team of four St. Paul officers are working to go beyond the call, to find out if there's a deeper issue. 

"It's a totally different kind of law enforcement,"Sipes said. 

Sipes is part of this new team. He says they're connecting with people in need in the field, but they also follow up on police reports where a person may have a mental health issue. 

"Reading through those reports to figure out what was done, what else can we do, and can we make referrals to a mental health resource," Sipes said. 

The most recent data from the department shows that mental health calls for service have more than doubled since 2004. In fact, in 2016, nearly 15 percent of all calls involved a mental health concern.

Mental Health Calls: By the Numbers in St. Paul

  2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Citizen Calls for Service 73866 69649 63518 63060 59481 55696 58063 56894 58999 58826 54756 61477 63883
Mental Health Calls for Service 4122 4944 4397 4468 4736 5337 6017 7053 7972 8529 8994 9228 8704
Mental Health percentage of citizen Calls 0.0558 0.071 0.0692 0.0709 0.0796 0.0958 0.1036 0.124 0.1351 0.145 0.1641 0.1501 0.1362
Reports with Mental Health Concerns  5269 6284 5693 5697 5987 6687 7675 9088 10173 10889 11495 12729 12345

*Source St. Paul Police Department

"There's a number of people in our community that live with mental illness and we're finding a different way to meet their needs," Sipes said. 

"This is the out of the box thinking that we need," CEO of People Incorporated, Jill Wiedemann-West said.

People Incorporated is a Minnesota company that provides mental health services. They help train officers and played a key role in developing the new unit for St. Paul. 

"We know mental health and we love the idea that they want to learn more about what they can do," Wiedemann-West said. 

Wiedemann-West says 1 in 5 people will experience some sort of mental health related issue in their lifetime.

"Some of us have a bad day, and some of us are disabled by our ailments and everything in between and I think it's very important to recognize that we do all have mental health," Wiedemann-West said. 

Sipes admits, they're not experts on mental health, but they need to understand it and surround themselves with those who are to better protect and serve the community.

"I think this is an opportunity for the police department to change the service that we provide," Sipes said. 

St. Paul Police say in addition to this new unit, all officers receive basic mental health training in the academy and crisis intervention team training. 

Minneapolis Police launched its own mental health co-responder program last fall.

Two officers and two mental health professionals respond to calls where someone is experiencing a mental health crisis or needs specialized care. They'll then make follow up visits within one week of the original call. 

The department is also dedicating more time and personnel to crisis intervention training. To date, more than 670 officers have received full CIT training.


Brett Hoffland

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