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Duluth police awarded grant to fund mental health officer

Duluth News-Tribune - 2/11/2020

Feb. 11--The Duluth Police Department has been awarded a $200,000 grant that would continue funding an officer dedicated to following up with people who have experienced mental health crises.

By a vote of 8-0 during Monday evening's meeting, the Duluth City Council accepted the 2020 Community Justice Reinvestment Grant, awarded by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Councilor Barb Russ wasn't in attendance.

The grant would fund a police officer that is part of the police department's mental health unit in the Duluth Transit Authority substation in downtown Duluth. It aims to help connect people experiencing a mental health crisis to appropriate services and follow up with individuals to ensure they are on track. The unit is made up of two police officers as well as two embedded social workers: one from St. Louis County and one from the Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment.

The department first received the grant in February 2018. From March 2018 through December 2019, the mental health unit responded to 278 referrals, 34 of which remain open with regular contact between the person and the unit.

"In the past two years, we've heard from patrol officers that they feel the impact of our work, and the data is starting to back that up," Mental Health Officer Angela Robertson said in a news release Monday. "The ER isn't necessarily the right place for individuals in crisis, and neither is the jail. We work to fill in that gap by getting to people before their condition escalates. From there, we can refer them to over 20 partner agencies to get individuals the help they need to begin recovery."

Patty Whelan, an embedded social worker with St. Louis County, said the program is helping build trust.

"The goal is to connect with people before their crisis becomes even more life changing," Whelan said in a news release. "What we're seeing is trusting relationships forming between us and the individuals we work with. Those same people who used to run from police or hide behind their locked doors are now coming to us to talk through an issue and get help."

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