Mother battles for technology to help police respond to vulnerable people

A new app designed to help officers respond to situations involving vulnerable people is gaining steam in Minnesota, with more departments and community advocates now swearing by the technology.

Called "Vitals Aware Services," the company's computer program operates off a beacon carried by the person in question, usually someone with special needs who may not be able to verbalize or communicate properly with officers. When officers approach, their phone will notify them of the situation and bring up a profile with information about how to approach and de-escalate the situation. 

"We’re trying to avoid traumatic incidents, we’re trying to avoid injury," said Nancy Nelson of Farmington, the mother of a 21-year-old with limited communication skills. The last time her son Jacob encountered police he ran off, turning a normally harmless situation into a potentially fraught one in an instant. 

Nancy is now in a battle with Farmington to get the police department to purchase the technology, which is already a part of the Dakota County sheriff's office. She's testified in front of the City Council about the benefits, but later received a letter saying that the body isn't interested now, but will likely take up the issue next year.

"We have a process for a reason," said Farmington Mayor Todd Larson. "If we said yes to everyone that requested something, our budget would be blown by July."

Despite the promises to consider allocating funds for the police department to purchase new technology, Nelson said the city can't afford to wait.

"I pray that all of our vulnerable children stay safe," Nancy said. "I hope they stay safe and don’t have an encounter that could have been prevented."