By Bruce Karnick [email protected] Mental health and crisis awareness has always been a part of law enforcement, but it has come to the forefront of discussions in the last few years. Crisis …
By Bruce Karnick
Mental health and crisis awareness has always been a part of law enforcement, but it has come to the forefront of discussions in the last few years. Crisis intervention training is a big part of the training that first responders need to continually work on. Properly executing the training can literally mean the difference between life or death, so the addition of the SMART center to Dakota County is a huge tool for officers all over the state.
The county formally opened its new Safety and Mental Health Alternative Response Training (SMART) Center during a ribbon-cutting event Monday, Sept. 27. The SMART Center is located along Highway 52 in Inver Grove Heights. The 35,000-square-foot facility is a permanent home for crisis response and de-escalation training that gives law enforcement officers and other first responders the “soft skills” to improve their interaction with people experiencing a mental health crisis.
The nonprofit Minnesota Crisis Intervention Team will teach public safety workers from across the region using five training rooms that can be staged with furniture and other equipment to simulate real-world scenarios.
See SMART Page 3 Professional actors and audio and video equipment enhance the training.
The event included U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, state legislators and project partners and supporters, including local law enforcement, mental health advocates, Inver Grove Heights city officials and others.
“This is another example of Dakota County working with partners to get things done,” Dakota County Board Chair Mary Liz Holberg said. “Certainly, the mental health issues facing our communities and law enforcement at times seem insurmountable, but with partnerships like this, we’re going to make progress.”
The training provided at the SMART Center will save lives, Dakota County Commissioner Joe Atkins said.
Dakota County Commissioner Mike Slavik explained the time that was involved creating the SMART center. “We started the project and the design in 2016, went to the legislature in 2018. And then it was approved in bonding and taken a few years to get built on that.”
Slavik also pointed out who it took to get this done. “The SMART center is just a great example of bringing a lot of people with very different ideas together with a common goal and a common cause. So, this is, it’s bipartisan, it’s multi levels of government, it’s the nonprofit community all coming together for the greater good. So, this is just something we’re really excited to see now in the bricks and mortar stage.
First responders encounter people daily who are struggling with mental illness and other crises, Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie said, and they need to be able to effectively help those individuals.
“The SMART Center is the symbol of how we do things like that in Dakota County,” Leslie said. “We work toward greater public safety by collaborating, by working together, and we provide cutting-edge training and a safe space for all.”
The SMART Center also is home to the Dakota County Electronic Crimes Unit and the Dakota County Drug Task Force. The Electronic Crimes Unit helps investigate electronic equipment and evidence in criminal cases across the county. The drug task force is a partnership with 12 police departments focused on drug, gang and violent crimes.
Slavik was excited about the other opportunities for training as well. “The Minnesota crisis organization is going to be doing their trainings here for the entire state. So, part of law enforcement requirements and their training is they must have so many hours of soft skills training, and they’ve never had a home to be able to go and have everyone from across the state come. So, this is an opportunity for that organization and some of the mental health organizations to kind of come together to have a home base.”
“This is a very important project for the state for region for law enforcement and for the residents of Dakota County. Time and time again, law enforcement is faced with mental health situations. And this will give them the crucial training necessary to handle those situations and they’re increasing over time. And this is a great way to support our community and make sure our law enforcement have the proper training to handle situations like this,” added State Senator Karla Bigham.
The county received $6.2 million in state bond funds to support the project in 2018. The $12.8 million SMART Center was also supported with $6.6 million in county funds.