St. Paul Police use app to de-escalate interactions with vulnerable people

When it comes to handling people with invisible disabilities, getting the right information to the right people at the right time is vital.

That's why the St. Paul Police Department is the first in the country to use the Vitals app to have better encounters with vulnerable children and adults.

"The program gives our officers the information they need when responding to these difficult situations to better address those suffering from mental health crises, autism, dementia," St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell said.

Fox 9 first told you about the Vitals app last December when St. Paul Police did a test run in the downtown skyway system.

The app allows the caregiver of a person with a disability to create a profile containing their name and a list of triggers and ways to calm them down, which is connected to a beacon in the shape of a dot or a card.

That profile then pops up on an officer's phone when they come within 30 to 60 feet of the vulnerable person, so they know who they are dealing with and how to handle them.

"For me, this program means freedom," said said Jillian Nelson, who has autism. "It means when I walk out of the house, knowing I have this card in my wallet, it means I have a security net."

Nelson, who recently had a meltdown at a store, says her Vitals profile meant the difference between a positive interaction with the officers surrounding her and a negative one.

"I gave them my profile, and it turned the situation around in seconds," said Nelson. "I stopped being perceived as a problem and they started perceiving me as someone who needed help."

St. Paul Police plan to have all their officers trained and using the Vitals app in a couple of weeks.

They have a two-year contract with Vitals free of charge, but it will cost caregivers $9.95 a month.