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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The St. Paul Police Department says their new mental health unit is dedicated to connecting people with community resources and reducing escalations that could result in use of deadly force.

The four-officer unit formally started last month, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported .

Calls to St. Paul police involving mental health issues have risen from about 4,100 calls in 2004 to about 8,700 calls in 2016.

The unit spends part of the day reviewing mental health-related reports that patrol officers have responded to. Officers look for ways to follow up on the situation to ensure everyone is aware about available mental health services. The mental health unit also monitors emergency radio traffic and responds to some calls.

The unit aims to counter any fear that people may have, said Sgt. Jamie Sipes, the unit’s coordinator.

“We want them to know we’re a different kind of police — we’re not the police that arrest, we’re not the police that write tickets; we’re the police that do follow up and call you and say: ‘Hey, how are you doing today? Are you taking your medications? Have you seen your case manager recently? How did that go?'” Sipes said.

Some people have questioned why the police department is getting involved in issues that are traditionally dealt with by a social worker. Sipes said people often call 911 when having a mental health crisis because they don’t know what else to do so officers need to be prepared for that situation.

The unit works with Ramsey County’s mobile crisis team when responding to some calls, but the group is looking for more ways to partner with social workers or other mental health professionals.


Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press,