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Dakota County takes step toward more mental health awareness

An estimated minimum of 70,000 people could benefit from a new service designed to improve interactions between law enforcement and vulnerable residents, according to a press release from Vitals Aware Services, the group behind the endeavor.

The Twin Cities-based tech company partnered with Dakota County to use its app-based service, which was developed in partnership with the Autism Society of Minnesota. Dakota County is the first county in Minnesota to implement the potentially life-saving technology, the release states.

Across the county, Vitals estimates 500 officers from the sheriff’s office and 10 city police departments will train to use the service over the next two to three months.

“Our deputies and officers will benefit from having immediate information in their hands, right at the scene of the situation,” said Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie. “This additional information can and will change how certain interactions take place.”

The service equips first responders with information provided by Vitals enrollees.

A Vitals user wears a beacon and when they come within 80 feet of an officer or first responder with the service, the officer will get a notification about the person’s diagnosis and how to best interact with them.

“We thought it would be a great way for officers to have more immediate information about the people they would be interacting with,” said Dakota County Social Services Director Andrea Zuber.

The service was first launched August 2017 in St. Paul and since expanded to Roseville, Chaska, Hopkins and the Three Rivers Park District, the release states.

“Expanding into the 587-square-mile Dakota County will benefit thousands of people in the metro area,” said Stan Alleyne, chief of communications and partnerships for Vitals.

“Dakota County has a population of about 418,000, with a minimum of 70,000 people diagnosed with conditions ranging from depression, autism, schizophrenia, dementia and other disorders. We believe that our services will help save lives, give individuals and their families more peace of mind and help enhance policing.”

According to Angela Lockhart, integrated service delivery coordinator for Dakota County Community Services, the county is working with Minnesota Department of Human Services Disability Services Division to ensure Vitals is accessible to as many individuals as possible.

Those determined eligible for services through county social services can also reach out to their case manager for guidance.

Private payments are another option and Vitals is working on developing partnerships with local advocacy groups and civic organizations to create scholarship funds available to those who may have a financial hardship, Lockhart added.

“We are proud of the leadership of Dakota County and look forward to the day when every police department and vulnerable individual around the country will have access to our services,” said Nick Tietz, Vitals co-founder and chief digital officer.

For more information, visit www.thevitalsapp.com or call Vitals at 612-599-7595.

John R. Russett

John Russett is a regional reporter for RiverTown Multimedia, covering a variety of issues facing RiverTown communities. Previously, he worked at the Red Wing Republican Eagle, where he reported on education as well as crime and courts. 

You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnRyanRussett

 

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