A rise in suicides within the fastest-growing suburb in the Twin Cities metro has Lakeville Mayor Matt Little launching a community initiative to prevent residents from taking their own lives.

The death of a local high school student just before the holidays alarmed Little and brought the growing issue to his attention, he said. During his first speech after being sworn in this month, Little announced his plan to meet with School District 194, police and mental health professionals to coordinate city resources on the matter.

"There has been a drastic increase in our town in the number of suicide threats, attempts and suicides themselves," said Little, who won re-election after running unopposed this fall. "I can't find an explanation for it and I think there are few answers. But there's a strong temptation to ignore it, to not talk about it, or convince ourselves that nothing we can do will help. But I don't think that's what our community is about. I don't think that's what we believe, so we must not ignore it."

In 2014, Lakeville recorded 51 suicide threats, 38 attempts and 5 deaths — including of a minor, said Police Chief Jeff Long.

"Those are some pretty big numbers," he said. "And it's not just Lakeville, it's society as a whole."

Minnesota's suicide rate jumped in recent years, rising 29 percent between 2003 and 2011, more than double the national rate of increase. A total of 683 people killed themselves in 2013, just one short of the record in 2011, according to state data.

Public health officials across the state began overhauling the way suicide data was collected and reported this month in an effort to find out why more Minnesotans are taking their own lives. The effort analyzes data from a range of sources beyond death certificates, which can have limited information.

On a more local level, Lakeville is attempting to do the same. If police receive a disturbance call and officers respond to find it's actually a crisis intervention or suicide-related, then it will be noted in the file, Long said. Tracking will also become more detailed by listing information on the method by which a suicide may have been attempted.

Before last year, statistics were tracked differently and often not complete, Long said. Last spring, Long began adding newly tracked statistics to his monthly reports before the City Council. So far statistics documenting ages and methods have been widely varied, he said, as police have responded to suicide threats and attempts from a child as young as 12 and seniors over 65 years old.

Police have also reached out to public safety chaplains for faith-based assistance in suicide prevention. Those conversations led to the idea of sending a chaplain back to the home where a critical incident call occurred, giving struggling residents a voluntary option for follow-up care.

The strategy is intended to prevent future crises and the need for law enforcement to return.

During the information-gathering stage of the initiative, Little is asking residents to share their personal stories or suggestions related to suicide prevention. "We need to work together on this one," he said.

Lakeville currently has eight specially trained officers who deal with suicide intervention and mental health issues.

"Frequently, people that are committing suicide are in such a dark place … when you learn what these people are going through, then you can learn how to communicate with them," Long said. "There's help available even in the darkest of times."

Liz Sawyer • 952-746-3282