During the month of February, the Dickinson Police Department responded to more than 1,600 calls for service. However, with a lack of resources in southwestern North Dakota, behavioral health calls persist at a continuing rate which in turn, consumes DPD's time and exhausts its labor forces.
Dickinson Police Chief Dustin Dassinger recapped the Dickinson City Commission Tuesday, March 16, at City Hall with a slideshow presentation that provided a breakdown of the variety of calls officers responded to in February.
Officers responded to 67 total calls for service relating to behavioral health in February, which is up from January’s total of 65 behavioral health calls. Last month, the DPD dealt with 50 welfare checks, eight mental health incidents, seven suicidal threats and two intoxicated subject calls.
Dassinger noted to the commission that behavioral health calls have already consumed departmental time and efforts for the beginning half of March.
“Over the past year, behavioral health calls have been fairly consistent in the community. Certain things tend to spike it; COVID has probably definitely impacted that a lot,” Dassinger said. “Historically, we’ve always dealt with that issue in our community but the problem certainly has grown over the last couple of years. Certainly with 2020 and 2021 (people are) dealing with COVID-related issues and economic and financial stress, (hence) we’ve definitely seen more behavioral health incidents that we have to respond to.”
The amount of rising behavioral health calls is not an isolated issue that pertains to only Dickinson, Dassinger said, adding that it’s a growing trend across North Dakota and the United States. These types of calls are time consuming for not only the DPD but also for the Stark County Sheriff’s Office. For example, if a behavioral health call requires a transport to another facility from Dickinson, usually two DPD officers are involved and oftentimes, staff from the Stark County Sheriff’s Office also assist with those incidents. Behavioral health calls intensify labor depending on the nature of the call, he said.
“Those calls can be responding to somebody threatening to commit suicide. It can be somebody that’s a welfare check (that) a family member, for whatever reason, hasn't heard from their loved one for multiple days, and we have to track that individual down. It could be drug or alcohol-related calls where they are not themselves and they’re threatening to hurt themselves. So there’s a wide variety of behavioral health calls that we respond to,” Dassinger said.
In order to address this developing issue, it will require examining the resources currently available in southwestern North Dakota, Dassinger said. But pinpointing the right solution to deal with these behavioral health calls is going to take time.
“There’s no easy answer to that,” Dassinger remarked. “Since I’ve been chief, I’ve been trying to tackle that but in order to solve this problem or come close to it, it’s going to take community involvement. I’m not saying we don’t have the resources but we don’t have enough resources in our community to deal with situations as far as the clinical health side of it.”
For calls related to intoxicated subjects, there is no facility in Dickinson that is solely dedicated to detoxification of those individuals, Dassinger noted. Officers will bring intoxicated subjects to the hospital to get them medically cleared and they often end up at the Southwest Multi-County Correctional Center.
“But the correctional center is not designed to be a detox facility; it’s just not. The correctional center is not a place to take individuals that have behavioral or mental health related problems. (But) oftentimes, it’s really the only resource that we have…” he said. “So this is really a community problem. It’s going to take partnerships between citizens, the hospital, Badlands Human Services and social services for all of us to get together and work together (while also) working with our legislators and say, ‘Hey, we need something not only in Dickinson, but in western North Dakota and we don’t have that.’
“To be honest, there’s nothing west of the Missouri River that really deals with these issues and this is a problem that’s not going away.”
Along with a consistent rate of behavioral health calls, the DPD conducted 101 criminal citation and arrests in February, which included 49 warrants, 21 drug-related arrests and 12 refusals/ DUI’s. The top five monthly calls were 64 suspicious person or vehicle calls, 56 speak with an officer incidents, 50 welfare checks, 48 paper/warrant service and 41 parking complaints.
“The type of calls that our police department is dealing with, we’re seeing a wide variety. This has been a tough week for us. A lot of staff time has been involved in a variety of calls and again, I’m very gracious for the staff and dedication that we have that (has) put in a lot of time and effort in serving our community, especially within this last week,” Dassinger added.