Three Rivers Park District takes steps toward safer interactions with the vulnerable

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Kristen Miller | SunPost | September 26 2017- Three Rivers Park District Police officers were recently trained on a new system designed to assist law enforcement in de-escalating interactions with vulnerable adults.

Vitals, a St. Paul-based tech company, launched a service designed to create safer interactions between law enforcement and people with behavioral, mental health and developmental disorders.

Dawn Brasch, mother of an autistic child and director of the Autism Society of Minnesota, a founding partner in the development of Vitals, sees the need for such a program.

“As a mother of an autistic child, it’s very stressful thinking about how police officers would interact with my son during an incident, if they would not have the information about him immediately at their disposal,” Brasch stated.

The Vitals First Responder app provides a profile of subscribers to better assist first responders when incidents occur.

11 million annual visitors to the 27,000 acres in the park district, “we attract a wide visitation of people where problems like this can pop up for us,” said Sgt Josh Foust, who’s worked for park police for 16 years.

“If there is a tool that will give us the edge to help calm somebody down without something happening, that would great,” he said. “We would rather see a positive outcome versus a negative outcome.”

Vitals is a subscription-based service that uses a beacon, either a button, card or Android phone, that is placed on the vulnerable person’s clothing or in their possession.

Families or caregivers create and manage a Vitals profile containing information about conditions, medications, behavior triggers, de-escalation techniques, videos or images the person responds to, medical information and caregiver contact information.

Authorized first responders also have a Vitals First Responder App, and will receive an alert and access to any Vitals Profile as far away as 80 feet from a Vitals beacon.

If a situation arises, officers can access the information and respond accordingly.
“It can give us tools to get through that issue,” Foust said.

What he finds will be the most beneficial are what triggers that person and what calms them down.

For example, if touch is listed as someone’s trigger, officers will be able to better respond to the incident.

As part of the training at the park district, a testimony was given from an autistic adult female, describing an incident where she caused a “disturbance” in a shopping center and the app was used successfully by the responding officers.

The app provides an opportunity for law enforcement to better decipher when there is an actual public disturbance versus someone who needs help, she explained.

“If there is a user … we have a subscription,” Foust said, noting the system is now live with the Three Rivers Park District, the only agency thus far in Hennepin County to implement the program. The program’s effectiveness will be evaluated next year, as the program has an annual fee of $850 to the park system, which equals $5 a month per officer.

This past month, St. Paul Police Department became the first agency to implement the program.

For more information on the service, visit https://thevitalsapp.com.

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