Crow Wing Sheriff’s office sees dramatic increase in mental health calls
At the current rate of increase, the most likely scenario shows the office should expect as many as 600 mental health calls a year by 2025.
BRAINERD — Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office personnel responded to an average of one call each day related to a mental health crisis in 2021.
This is a marked increase compared to a year earlier, according to statistics presented by Sheriff Scott Goddard at the Tuesday, Jan. 25, Crow Wing County Board meeting. In 2020, just over 200 calls related in some way to mental health, part of a steady rise in these types of calls since the sheriff’s office began tracking in 2017.
“This kind of goes back to what keeps us as law enforcement up at night,” Goddard said. “You know, we’ve always said the two biggest challenges we’ve got facing us are drugs and then the mental health crisis.”
Goddard’s presentation showed trendlines predicting how many calls the sheriff’s office may respond to in the future. At the current rate of increase, the most likely scenario shows the office should expect as many as 600 mental health calls a year by 2025. The worst-case scenario shows that number approaching 700 annually, nearly two calls per day on average. The sheriff emphasized these are calls for his agency alone, not accounting for those responded to by other area departments.
“This could be as simple as someone that has challenges, or it could be as extreme as someone that may be seeing something that’s not there or hearing voices, or hurting themselves or attempting to hurt others. It could be any extreme,” Goddard said.
A closer partnership with Crow Wing County Community Services in recent years — including embedded social workers in the county jail to assist people with services they may need upon reentry — has yielded good results, the sheriff said. But the problem is so large and difficult, it will continue to be a burden on law enforcement for the foreseeable future, Goddard said.
This kind of goes back to what keeps us as law enforcement up at night.
“The job of law enforcement is nothing what it used to be, and it’s expected in some parts of it — but our jail is consistently housing special needs that we all agree are people that should not be in our facility. And yet, where else can they go?” he said. “ … We’re working with what we’ve got. But it’s going to be a challenge that will continue to only get more of a draw on every resource.”
Commissioner Steve Barrows — who spent 24 years working for the Minnesota Department of Human Services, including a decade at the Brainerd State Hospital, before his 2011 retirement — asked Goddard how he thought his graph may have looked in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“I think we would see a stagnant, flat line,” Goddard said. “ … I could go through my memory bank of the calls that I’ve been on, and it was a rarity to deal with someone that I think we would see at the level that is now consistent.”
Barrows drew a direct line between the closure of most state hospitals in 2003 and the increase in mental health calls for law enforcement, which the commissioner called a “failing of the state system.”
When the Minnesota Legislature adopted the plan to shift the majority of mental health care to community behavioral health hospitals, Barrows said the state failed to follow through on a number of its promises in the intervening years. And because the smaller community facilities — including one in Baxter — don’t take the toughest cases and only one central facility in Anoka remains, Barrows said law enforcement filled the gaps.
There’s no cheap way out of mental health care, I will say that.
“I can tell you, there’s a difference between what they deal with out in Baxter and what we dealt with out on the campus out here, the type of clients. So that means your toughest ones are going to be in your facility, and they’re going to be the most dangerous ones for your officers,” Barrows said. “ … You guys have done a great job. All across the state, they’ve done a great job. Unfortunately, the Legislature doesn’t seem to be willing to address the misguided process they took in the early 2000s.”
Goddard said he agreed with Barrows on the impact of state hospital closures, adding while there were good intentions, tools in the tool belt for responding to mental health issues were never replaced.
“We look at our staffing and you hear the, you know, the concerns on every level with our hospitals and with our care facilities — this is really being swept into the closet and forgotten on so many levels,” Goddard said. “I don’t know whether I’m aware of the answers … but we need someone to come forward with some ideas of how we can really address this. I’m very happy with the work we’re doing, but our challenges are only going to increase, and it’s gonna be tough to meet. I mean, anywhere, it’s gonna be tough to meet.”
“There’s no cheap way out of mental health care, I will say that,” Barrows said. “Anybody that sells you that ship is telling you a lie. Period.”