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Police respond to increase in mental health calls

Jeff Tate
by Jeff Tate, Police Chief05/22/2019 10:00 am
Updated: 05/22/2019

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I’m guessing most of you know someone who struggles with mental health in some capacity. The last decade has brought about significant changes in law enforcement, from the way we train to the types of calls we respond to. I don’t believe there has been a more significant change than the increase in mental health calls our officers respond to on a daily basis. 

When I started in this city over 20 years ago, we’d handle a mental health call every so often. Today, it’s rare for an officer to go an entire shift without responding to at least one call with a mental health component to it. Many officers use their training in mental health several times per shift and are often left frustrated by a system that hasn’t caught up to the problem yet.

Graph showing the top medical calls for Allina Health in Shakopee in 2017

For the last several years, the No. 1 medical call for service in Shakopee is a mental health call. This has necessitated a change in how we train our officers. While there are mental health training mandates for police officers,  the Shakopee Police Department has been ahead of the curve. Ever officer receives Critical Incident Training (CIT) and all new officers attend the 40-hour CIT course before they graduate from the field training program. We made this decision several years before any mandates; we simply had to given the frequency with which we deal with mental health.

Law enforcement has unfortunately been placed in a very difficult position. We are often the first called to an event, though we are not mental health professionals, and are expected to resolve issues using no force. Sometimes this is simply an unrealistic expectation. We do our very best to make sure the county jail is not a mental health facility and that people in crisis are taken care of the right way. I am encouraged by the commitment from various leaders in the county who’ve placed a high level of importance on improving mental health resources in the area. We have too few in place now, and this issue is not going away anytime soon. We will continue to provide our officers with the best training available and equip them to assure we can provide the best assistance possible when responding to any call involving mental health.