MOORHEAD — An adjusted approach to dealing with mental health crises may soon be in the cards.

Law enforcement agencies in several Minnesota counties and cities have adopted or are considering similar approaches including Rosemount, Minneapolis, St. Paul, South Saint Paul, Rochester, St. Cloud, Lakeville, Burnsville and Dakota County.

The Moorhead Police Department would like to be on that list.

Captain Deric Swenson says officers get crisis and de-escalation training and education in increments as they are not able to afford the time, money or resources for full classes.

Despite this, he says officers are taking on more responsibilities than they expected to.

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"A lot of thing we started adding on, us officers didn't go to school for," Swenson said.

The Village Family Service Center's Denise Hellekson says people in crisis may not think to call a counselor first, and the onus shouldn't just be on police.

"I don't think it's fair for law enforcement to be the only game in town, that they should be expected to have all the skill sets for all the critical calls that they get," Hellekson said.

Some cities, such as New York City, are making counselors the default responders.

Swenson and Hellekson say, given the unpredictable nature and potential dangers associated with these situations, working as a team is better in terms of communication and safety.

"Just like the EMS system in Fargo-Moorhead, the fire department gets there first and a few minutes later, the ambulance gets there, that's how we envision the system working," Swenson said. "The Moorhead police department building relationships and collaborations with other agencies to work with us."

"I think that just makes it better for law enforcement, better for the person calling, better for the community," Hellekson said.

They say that starts with keeping the conversation about overcoming the stigma around mental health issues going.

"Law enforcement, sometimes for a problem, will just be a bandaid," Swenson said. "What we want to do is be able to take that person, put the band aid on them and then also make sure they're getting treatment for that wound."

"In some areas, there's still a stigma if there's a mental health issue. There's weakness involved. The more we normalize this going, 'no, this is life,' people start to reach out more freely before we hit critical mass and don't know what to do next," Hellekson said.

Moorhead police say there are no concrete plans for a permanent program yet.

If you or someone you know needs someone to talk to, the national suicide prevention hotline is 800-273-8255.

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