St. Paul PD expands mental health program, calls it 'Community Outreach and Stabilization'

The St. Paul Police Department is expanding a new program focused on helping those who struggle with mental health issues.

Police are hoping to connect people with the resources they need after creating the mental health unit just over a year ago.

Now, it has a new name and a bigger focus.

After eight years as a patrol officer with the St. Paul Police Department, Jen Hale is working a new beat helping check in on the city’s homeless population.

“They just seem a little more relaxed and low key about letting us in and talking to them,” Hale said. “Not having the uniform on and they just seem more open minded to it.”

She’s one of three officers added to the department’s mental health unit, which now called the community outreach and stabilization unit.

It was created to give police a softer approach to people suffering from mental health issues.

“A lot of times we respond when a crisis occurs,” said Sgt. Jamie Sipes, the Community Outreach and Stabilization Unit coordinator. “The goal of this unit is to respond, build relationships and get people connected to services before that crisis occurs.”

In addition to doubling in size to seven officers, four social workers and a research analyst, the unit is also expanding its focus to include specialists in chemical dependency and homeless outreach.

“What we found was officers were having contact with people having different issues in their life,” Sipes said. “Sometimes a chemical dependency issue which is not in and of itself a mental health concern. We’re asked to intervene in some of these situations so we wanted to broaden the vision of our unit.”

Officer Hale hopes by helping people before they get in trouble, she can make a difference in a different way.

 "I'm excited to be a part of this group, excited to see where our unit goes and truly make an impact on people out here,” Hale said.

The unit is also expanding its hours from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. so its officers and social workers can better respond to calls when they are happening.