The St. Paul Police Department will expand its new unit dedicated to handling calls for mental health crises. Minnesota Public Radio News reported that the St. Paul City Council recently approved a budget to nearly double the number of officers working within the mental health unit that started this spring.
The unit will now have seven officers who work alongside two social workers to respond to the Police Department’s growing number of mental health-related calls.
The team has handled about 1,500 cases so far this year by performing welfare checks, connecting residents with mental health services and reducing escalations.
Police formed the unit in March after seeing a sharp rise in calls involving mental health issues, from about 4,100 calls in 2004 to roughly 8,700 calls in 2016.
The mental health unit was initially met with some resistance from people who questioned why the Police Department is getting involved in issues that are traditionally handled by social workers.
But pairing an officer with a social worker to respond to such calls is part of a larger acknowledgement that police often deal with mental health crises as part of their job, said Steve Allen, a criminal justice expert with the Justice Center at the Council of State Governments, a national public policy nonprofit.
“Having proactive services can help alleviate a lot of the crises in the first place,” Allen said.