DPD Credits Drop in Repeat Calls to Mental Health Unit

Baihly Warfield
Updated: May 22, 2019 08:47 PM

Since 2018, when the Duluth Police Department's mental health unit was established, they have seen at 31 percent drop in calls for people with regular police contact, Mayor Emily Larson reported Wednesday. 

The mental health unit consists of two police officers and two licensed St. Louis County social workers. 

"It was a big shift starting to work together and having these two disciplines together," Patty Whelan, one of the embedded social workers, said. 

She and her partner, Chad Guenther, have worked together for two years now. Whelan said when she started, she was impressed by what the officers already knew. But she said they were welcoming and happy to have another tool. 

"We're looking for unique ways to serve people differently and hearing everybody's unique story. We're taking the time to develop the relationship with the individual and kind of hear where they're at and what they want rather than just managing people around," Whelan said. 

It's a matter of connecting people with the right resources for them rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. 

Whelan and Guenther also get referrals from other officers who think someone they interacted with could benefit from a mental health follow-up. In 2018, the pair got almost 300 referrals. 

Chief Mike Tusken said it's some of the most meaningful work he has done in his career. 

"It's really remarkable work we're doing," Tusken said. 

He said on any given day, there are 180-200 people in the St. Louis County jail. 

"We know that 50% of those people who are in the county jail at any given time are diagnosed with mental illness," Tusken said. "And a jail is not a place for people who are suffering from a mental illness."

St. Louis County Board Chair Patrick Boyle said what started as a county pilot program is now a model being used around Minnesota and the Midwest. 

Whelan and Guenther said the mental health unit is there to stay and will probably even grow in the future. 


Baihly Warfield

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