With the number of mental health calls hitting a new high each year, Lakeville police are trying something new. Since April, a team of eight officers has been following up on some cases to see if anyone needs further help.
Cases can be as serious as responding to attempted suicides or, more frequently, checking on a person’s well-being. Lakeville Police Lt. Tim Knutson hopes that following up a few days later can help stave off future crises.
“How do we prevent this from happening again?” said Knutson, who supervises the team. “[After] the first event occurs, they still have some of the issues that led to that event.”
Knutson said follow-ups can be as simple as a 10-minute phone call. Otherwise, if desired, an officer may return to the home with a chaplain to help direct people to services like counseling or the county’s mental health crisis response unit.
For the better part of the past decade, Lakeville has been in the middle of a countywide rise in mental health calls. Since 2010, Lakeville police have responded to more check welfare, mental health crisis and suicide calls every year, including a 20 percent uptick last year with 641 total calls.
Knutson said the department is on pace to respond to 726 such calls this year, which would be a 64 percent increase from 2010. That trend is also reflected in nearby cities like Eagan, where total mental health calls climbed to 1,081 last year from 713 in 2007. Burnsville’s calls more than doubled to 369 in 2013 from 146 in 2003.
More calls mean more time spent on mental health cases. This year, Lakeville police expect to have people on the scene of mental health calls for 520 hours, up from 304 hours in 2010. The total staff time will likely be even higher because the calls often require three or more officers, Knutson said.
In March, when a man barricaded himself inside a Burnsville home, police there spent nearly eight hours negotiating before he came outside. Burnsville Sgt. Jeff Witte estimated that the call required 100 officers from the department and other agencies as the man threatened to harm himself and officers.
“You tend to run out of bodies at these events,” Witte said. “It’s a huge tax on your service.”
The most common type of mental health call is a request to check the welfare of someone, usually called in by a friend or loved one. Though most prevalent, they’re the least time-consuming of the three categories that Lakeville considers mental health-related.
Suicides or attempted suicides take the most time, more than one hour of work per call on average. Knutson said the team is targeting those time-consuming calls in the early stages of the new program. If the program is successful, he said it may branch out to following up on other types of mental health calls.
Early signs indicate people are receptive to the extra response, Knutson said.
“They’re feeling someone else out there is caring,” he said.