The most prevalent issues in community safety include domestic violence, as well as lack of options for treating mental health crises and addictions. This is a deep look at how Minnesota families and neighborhoods are impacted by these often-overlooked issues of public safety, and how Minnesotans can address these issues in a more comprehensive way than what policing is able to comfortably and effectively handle due to lack of personnel, attention, or training.

Prevalence: Domestic Violence

A 140-page report by Global Rights for Women, titled “An Institutional Analysis of the Minneapolis Police Response to Domestic Violence,” was released in June. It noted that in Minneapolis, from January 2019 to December 2022, one-third of all aggravated assaults were related to intimate partner violence.

Second only to drug cases, the highest caseloads with the Hennepin County Attorney General’s office were related to domestic assaults — despite being a crime that tends to be under-reported as well as under-investigated.

Former Minnesota Department of Public Safety commissioner John Harrington once said, “When I was police chief in Saint Paul, I discovered that domestic violence was the most frequent violent crime committed in my city, and it was all too often preventable.” 

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, on one typical day in 2019 there were 1,975 adult and child survivors of domestic violence in Minnesota being served by programs, with another 352 turned away because of lack of resources. This does not include people who have not turned to criminal justice or social service systems.

Less common, according to the latest data report by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, were 201 murders and 779 carjackings reported in the state in 2021.

That year, deputies from the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office Violent Offender Task Force and officers with the Minneapolis Police Department teamed up, with air support from the Minnesota State Patrol, to target groups of individuals responsible for robberies and carjackings in South Minneapolis. The three-day operation resulted in 46 arrests, including recovery of 15 firearms. 

A study in 2017 by the Police Conduct Oversight Commission noted that police officers wrote reports or made arrests in 20 percent of the domestic violence calls from 2014 to 2016. In that time, the Minneapolis police department received more than 43,000 calls about domestic violence.



Prevalence: Mental Health Crisis

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that more than 14 million adults in the U.S. suffer from a serious mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder that interferes with major life activities. A 2015 report by the Treatment Advocacy Center indicated that this 5 percent of the population generates sometimes ten calls for police intervention, 20 percent of the people incarcerated, 33 percent of the transportation to emergency rooms by police. Additionally, an estimated 25 percent of fatal police encounters involves a person with a severe mental illness.

In addition, suicide deaths are increasing fastest among people of color, young people, and those who live in rural areas; data indicates rates have grown by 30 percent or more for some populations from 2011 to 2021. The Center for Disease Control provisional data indicate 2022 had the highest recorded suicide deaths.

In Minnesota, a workgroup was convened in 2015 by the Department of Human Services, in partnership with the local chapter of the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), to examine systems of criminal justice related to mental health and substance use — including prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery. 

The results of that investigation were compiled in the “Offenders With Mental Illness” legislative report, which indicated that a system was “far from” developed — despite the passage 30 years earlier of the Comprehensive Mental Health Act to develop a statewide system of response to mental health treatment. County jails were overburdened because of lack of resources for people with mental illness who needed crisis services, treatment, healthcare, housing, employment, and therapy. The number of people in correctional facilities had tripled between 1982 and 2007, the report said, and one in six of those in jail had serious mental illness, including a majority with substance use disorders.

The report indicated, “Police and sheriffs often cite their frustrations with having to respond to people with mental illnesses, often for public nuisance crimes, but other times for a psychiatric crisis. Judges are overwhelmed with the volume of cases — often repeat offenders whose untreated mental illness results in numerous appearances before the court. Jail staff feel particularly lacking in the training and education needed to keep these individuals safe, including those who may be at risk for suicide. Local budgets are strained by the costs of providing medication. Prisons are also not well equipped to address the needs of these inmates.”



Intentions to Support Police on Domestic Violence Calls

In 1976, the Minnesota Program for Victims of Sexual Assault became the first legislatively mandated program of its kind in the nation with a dedicated team designing new standards for survivors, investigations, legal proceedings, trainings, and healing.

At a city level, in 1984, the Minneapolis Intervention Project was organized within the Domestic Abuse Project to offer community-coordinated responses to domestic violence cases. Teams of women volunteers were sent alongside paid police.

As Minnesota Women’s Press reported at the time — and revisited in the 2021 book “35 Years of Minnesota Women” — before 1984 only 14 percent of abusers in Minneapolis were sent into counseling; during the first year of the program, 62 percent of abusers were sent to counseling. Similarly, the new crisis response teams of volunteers were able to send 45 percent of people with addictions into treatment.

Yet today, there is not a widespread, coordinated effort to respond to most domestic violence cases in Minnesota beyond calling police or offering under-resourced services for adults and children who are escaping a violent home.

In a March 2023 Minnesota Women’s Press package of stories about gender-based violence, Mendota Heights police chief Kelly McCarthy was quoted as saying:  “Cops don’t repair harm. We just hopefully stop things from getting worse in the moment. We need to recognize that, then step away and let other services do what is in their lane of expertise.”

Rachel Asproth, of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said in that same issue that calling the police is often not what victims want, for a variety of reasons. One reason: “Many report feeling traumatized or unheard and wish they had more options. Restorative justice can focus on: What does the survivor need to feel safe again? What do accountability, justice, and healing mean to them?”



Intentions to Support Police on Mental Health Calls

The 2015 legislative report on mental illness laid out some of the growing responsibilities that have fallen to policing over the decades: assisting motorists, providing medical and rescue services, conducting well-being checks, and responding to adults and children in mental health crisis. In 1967, Minnesota police officers were legally authorized to take people into custody who “appeared to be in imminent danger of harming themselves or others due to mental illness, intellectual disability, or drug or alcohol use, and to transport those individuals to a facility for evaluation or treatment.”

Technically, officers who respond to mental health crisis calls, the report said, are “not there to enforce the law so much as they are present as a member of the care team, to help the individual who is experiencing a health concern.”

In 1988, the Minnesota Comprehensive Mental Health Act was passed to establish crisis services and standards: two mental health professionals; available 24/7; with capacity for quick in-person assessments and coordination with families, hospitals, social services, and law enforcement; including culturally specific services; and privacy of health records.

The 2015 legislative report again recommended that sustainable funding methods be created for mental health urgent care services and mobile crisis services. The state, counties, and individual cities have different approaches to addressing emergencies related to domestic violence, mental health crisis, and addictions. Consistently, however, these approaches are underfunded. 

Sue Abderholden, executive director of NAMI, was part of the leadership on the 2015 legislative report. She told Minnesota Women’s Press that funding has not significantly improved since then. It has grown at the state level over the years, “but there still isn’t enough money for [behavioral crisis teams] to go out quickly for calls. They aren’t funded even close to what other responders are — such as police, fire, EMTs.”

The new Travis Law requires 911 to send out crisis teams, she says, but implementation is spotty. For just over a year, the new 988 crisis line has helped to connect people directly to mental health teams.

Some communities have co-responders who accompany officers on calls involving mental health or substance use. In rural areas, many counties combine to offer services to a large geographic area. In many cases, however, the main responders to a mental health crisis continue to be police. 

Abderholden says that it can be confusing “to have different teams pop up without clearly defining what they do. For example, if a police department hires a social worker to go out on calls with them, [these co-responders] are not governed by HIPAA. All the county teams are.”

Minnesota has 34 mobile crisis teams across the state covering 87 counties. If fully funded, these 24/7 teams include people with extensive training and skills who are able to respond quickly to calls and engage someone in a mental health crisis. This year the Minnesota legislature improved funding to schools and communities for rising youth mental health issues.

  • NAMI recommends full funding support for mental health professionals and practitioners, and peer specialists, as response teams. They are able to bill insurance as well as be compliant with HIPAA, which “helps to integrate medical and mental health care and provide background information on earlier services if there are repeat calls. They can also provide stabilization services and are often well connected to other mental health providers in their community and the local hospitals.”
  • In models where there is a co-responder that goes to calls with police, NAMI recommends this be an employee of the crisis team, not of the police department. This enables them to “access health information not available to law enforcement, coordinate with many other community providers, receive continuing education on culturally responsive and evidence-based mental health practices — include a responder who speaks the community member’s language and reflects their culture.
  • NAMI recommends more funding for telehealth services by crisis response teams, especially in rural areas with wide geographic distances. 

The county is the primary pathway to behavioral crisis team funding. In some areas, services are contracted with community providers. Allocations for mobile crisis response teams in the 2023-24 state budget will be $41.2 million — $23.2 million short of the requested amount. The funds will be divided evenly among all state providers, giving each of them an increase of about $129,000.

Hennepin County requested $11.2K, for example, and received $2 million. Dakota County requested $3.2K and received $1.2 million. Ramsey County requested $1.7K and received $1.5K.

In contrast, according to NAMI, the 2020 police budgets in some cities were:

  • Minneapolis: $193.3 million
  • St. Paul: $125.9 million
  • Rochester: $30.4 million
  • Alexandria: $3.4 million
  • Crookston: $2.1 million

Bright Lights in Mental Health Collaboration

A 2022 report titled “Best Practices in Law Enforcement Responses to Mental Health Crises” indicated that law enforcement and mental health communities need to have ongoing dialogue about how to identify trends and collaborate on addressing barriers. It highlighted several positive collaborative programs around Minnesota.

The Carver County Sheriff’s Office, in collaboration with the Carver County 24/7 mobile Mental Health Crisis Program, implemented two programs in 2020. Telephone crisis response and screening practitioners from the mental health program were co-located in the 911 Dispatch Center in Chaska. Practitioners are authorized to dispatch a mobile crisis therapist, with or without law enforcement. A full-time licensed mental health professional position is funded by the sheriff’s office as a law enforcement co-responder, who provides direct assessment of a crisis, engages in intervention, and suggests brief stabilization services. “On 23 percent of the calls,” the report said, “officers were freed up for other tasks while the co-responder continued engaging with the person in crisis; 56 percent were able to remain in their homes, thereby avoiding ambulance and emergency department visits.”

Mental health calls to the Saint Paul Police Department and Ramsey County Crisis Team had doubled over the preceding decade, according to a 2015 assessment, and were accounting for 15 percent of all calls. In 2018, the Community Outreach and Stabilization Team (COAST) program was launched, which pairs clinicians with officers to respond to people in crisis and connect them with resources. Because of needs from the opioid epidemic, the Recovery Access Program (RAP) was started in 2021, which pairs officers with licensed alcohol and drug counselors. Within a few years COAST had received over 5,000 cases, made more than 1,500 referrals to services, more than 500 mental health diagnostic assessments, and more than 100 chemical health diagnostic assessments.

Blue Earth County launched the Yellow Line Project in 2016, leading to a 20 percent decrease in costs for detox services, and an 86 percent decrease in costs for state hospital services. 

The NW8 Adult Mental Health Initiative in Kittson, Mahnomen, Marshall, Norman, Pennington, Polk, Red Lake, and Roseau counties offers crisis intervention training to law enforcement officers.

In 2021, Rochester sent trained co-responders out with officers to more than 1,000 calls, with 85 percent related to mental health or substance use. The report says a 22-year policing veteran described the partnership with social workers as a “game changer.” 

The Hennepin County Community Outreach for Psychiatric Emergencies (COPE) team, Abderholden says, is another example of how mobile crisis teams are able to effectively respond to calls instead of police. In 2022, the team averaged more than 4,000 calls per month.


An Emerging Gap in Domestic Violence Response

One gap identified in the recent GRW report about Minneapolis policing in particular revealed that research on traumatic brain injury is slowly beginning to be recognized as an issue to factor into medical and law enforcement response to domestic violence. The Center on Partner-Inflicted Brain Injury reports that in addition to struggling with mental health issues, most domestic violence survivors have experienced violence that could cause brain injuries. The GRW report quoted one survivor who indicated that after an attack she could not think of family members to call, or remember phone numbers; she didn’t realize she may have been experiencing symptoms from a concussion. Knowing the impact of brain injury on survivors is something the GRW report indicates needs to be part of a reliable response.

With the Minneapolis Police Department in particular currently experiencing a severe shortage of officers — currently missing at least 300 of its authorized 888 — advocates know there are ways to improve responses to gender-based violence and mental health calls now, if there was greater funding outside police budgets to these highly prevalent public safety issues.

Action = Change

1. U.S. Congress is considering the 988 Implementation Act (H.R. 4851) that would fund local 988 call centers to ensure 24/7 access for anyone who needs help; support expansion of mobile crisis teams to help communities provide an in-person mental health crisis response instead of relying on law enforcement to respond; and expand awareness of 988 through awareness campaigns. To date, only Congresswoman Angie Craig has signed on as a co-author. NAMI Minnesota urges contacts to your U.S. representative to ask that they cosponsor this legislation. 

2. NAMI will support conversations in casual settings led by members this fall with legislators. If you are interested in attending or hosting one, contact Elliot at ebutay@namimn.org

3. Counties in Minnesota can engage people voluntarily in mental health treatment for early intervention, including suicide prevention, but it has not been implemented. NAMI wants to pilot this program but has not been legislatively granted funds in two years of asking. As Abderholden writes:Let’s make the phrase ‘early identification and treatment’ actually mean something in the mental health system.”

4. Changemakers Alliance has started a list of people who want to be part of next step conversations about solutions and action steps to support gender-based violence response. To be alerted about related stories and discussions in the future, subscribe to “CALL Gender-Based Violence” here.

5. Find ways to support the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

6. Be apprised about, and share with others, what the most prevalent crimes in Minnesota are.