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Police responding to an increased number of psych calls

How local law enforcement officers are trained to handle mental health-related calls more effectively and how they determine whether someone should be sent to jail or treatment.

Posted: Jan. 3, 2018 7:15 PM
Updated: Jan. 4, 2018 6:49 AM

ROCHESTER, Minn. - During a mental health crisis, people are more likely to encounter police than get medical help. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) two million people with mental illnesses are booked into jail each year, and around 20% of them have serious mental health conditions. A vast majority of those individuals booked into jail are non-violent criminals. That's the case for a Mankato man we talked to.

Ryan Davis suffers from Major Depressive Disorder, an illness that handed him in a Mankato jail just last month.

"I just had a bunch of things adding up and eventually just kind of snapped," Davis explains. "It's something that will happen with most people with my condition."

In December he tells us he began having a crisis and his wife called the local authorities in Mankato to get him the help he needed.

"I was in a frantic state of mind, pretty scared and there was a little bit of a struggle."

Davis was taken to the hospital by police and put into a 72 hour hold before being released into police custody.

"That almost erased all the progress I had made in the hospital," he explains. "I had no idea I had committed any crimes."

He was charged with obstruction of legal process, a gross misdemeanor. He says his time in jail allowed him to reflect and fueled his desire to raise awareness about mental health and the way it's handled in the criminal justice system. He even started a petition.

"Mental illness is not a crime, it's an illness and there's help," says Sgt. Paul Gronholz with the Rochester Police Department. 

Sgt. Gronholz says they understand that the help a person needs is not always a jail cell.

"We take all that into account; what kind of resources would be best. If that resource is to be hospitalized for a while, that's fine with us. There may be charges in some cases, absolutely. In some cases people will be taken to jail but I think that is the vast minority of the psych-related calls we go on."

The number of those psych-related calls continues to increase. Law enforcement agencies across the state are responding to more of these types of calls than ever. RPD has seen a 20% increase in the past year, but Sgt. Gronholz doesn't see that as a bad thing. Rather, a sign that people are more comfortable talking about mental illness and reaching out for help.

In Rochester and Olmsted Co. 60-70% of patrol officers are certified in Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) which is higher than the national and state averages. Last year, Governor Mark Dayton signed legislation mandating all officers in the state undergo training in mental-health crises and conflict de-escalation. It comes with $6 million annually for training over four years.

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