As the nationwide conversation continues over how to end police brutality against minorities, one major focus has been on increasing behavioral and mental health services.
There’s an effort that’s been in the works for years now, right here in the peace garden state.
We first reported about the North Dakota Department of Human Services’ plan to create a social detox facility in the Bismarck-Mandan area about two years ago. The plan has always been to have staff like counselors and clinical specialists available for 911 calls that may not be best suited for police.
Law enforcement has been onboard since day one.
According to Bismarck Deputy Chief Jason Stugelmeyer, “When a community has limited resources, everything falls on us.”
In fact, in 2019, Bismarck police responded to 428 detox calls. That’s over 10 percent more calls than in 2018 (386).
“If you’re drunk in public and you basically can’t care for yourself, it’s not a criminal act. There’s nothing illegal about it. But there are limited resources in the area to take care of them,” Deputy Chief Stugelmeyer explained.
This spurred a conversation between Bismarck Police and the West Central Human Service Center about keeping those that aren’t necessarily doing something illegal, out of jail.
The problem is, when officers respond to public intoxication calls, there wasn’t another place to take people to sober up for the night.
“Some of those discussions have been ongoing for the last couple of years,” shared Brad Brown, Regional Director of the West Central Human Service Center.
Now, as of May 1, there is a crisis center in the Capital City. We can’t share the exact location, but people are taken there to detox.
“It includes a 24-hour statewide crisis center, so we’ve contracted with FirstLink to where they’ll have trained call center specialists that will conduct an assessment over the phone. But if a referral process is then needed, we then have a 24-hour regional mobile crisis response team,” Brown added.
It’s made up of nurses, clinical specialists, addiction counselors and more, to respond alongside police in behavioral health crises.
“During the day, after hours, weekends and holidays,” Brown shared.
“We’ve had law enforcement bring persons over during the day shift that they encounter in the street, whether they’re homeless or just having issues. Just last week, there was an incidence of that where law enforcement stayed just long enough the get the person connected with us,” added Lynden Ring, the Assistant Regional Director for West Central.
“And that’s the same thing with mental illness. And in the history of law enforcement… in general, law enforcement has, while trying to help somebody, had to hurt them because they are resistant to law enforcement. And, we don’t want to do that. We’d rather have a professional with us,” Deputy Chief Stugelmeyer concluded.
West Central is able to provide all of this through a contract with the nonprofit Dacotah Foundation, and with money set aside by state lawmakers in 2019.
The goal is to have the services available in all eight Human Service regions in the state by later this fall.