The St. Paul Police Department is expanding its team of officers and social workers who work to help people in mental health crisis.
Two Ramsey County social workers will join the department’s Mental Health Resource Team, bringing the number of social workers directly working with police to four. It will enable the team to work from 7 a.m. to after midnight, said police Sgt. Jamie Sipes, who oversees the team.
A civilian research analyst also will also join the team, which includes eight officers. A $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice will cover the analyst and social workers’ salaries for three years.
St. Paul police started the mental health resource team last year in response to a ballooning number of calls for service where mental health was a factor. Those calls more than doubled in a decade’s time, to more than 12,000 in 2016.
Before the team was formed, St. Paul officers might take a person with a mental health issue to the hospital, Sipes said. Now social workers can immediately start counseling the person and connect them with services. Officers and social workers follow up in the following weeks.
“We now have that expertise right there in the field to help make an informed decision: What is the best outcome for this person in crisis?” Sipes said.
Local jurisdictions, including Maplewood, Minnetonka and Washington County, are exploring new ways to address emergency mental health calls. Such calls can prove challenging because people may need help and follow-up but not hospitalization, one expert has said. Many also are in denial about their illness.
Sue Abderholden, executive director of NAMI Minnesota (National Alliance on Mental Illness), said she’s pleased that police are adding social workers to help people struggling with mental health.
“That is going to help divert people from the criminal justice system and connect them to the care they need,” she said.
She also praised the city’s partnership with Ramsey County, which she said has the expertise needed to manage medical records and successfully work with people in crisis.
Sipes said they’re already seeing positive results in St. Paul.
“The number of times we have taken people to the hospital has significantly decreased,” he said.
People are more willing to disclose mental health issues to officers responding to calls, he said. He attributes that to growing trust between police and community.
“We have demonstrated we are trying to get people connected with community-based resources,” he said.
The two new Ramsey County social workers teaming up with police also will be part of the county’s mobile crisis team. That team, formed more than two decades ago, includes social workers, peer recovery specialists, a nurse and a nurse practitioner who respond to people struggling with mental health issues.
People in trouble, as well as their friends or family members, can reach the team at 651-266-7900.
“We might do some calming things on the phone. We often come out to meet somebody — at a house, business, schools, churches, even parks,” said Brian Theine, the crisis team’s supervisor.