By Jennifer Stockinger on Apr 15, 2018 at 6:00 a.m.
Law enforcement officers in the Brainerd lakes area have another tool to help them on calls—an app they hope will help save lives.
The Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office and six police departments—Baxter, Brainerd, Crosby, Cuyuna, Emily and Pequot Lakes—have been trained to use the Vitals Aware Services app. The app is a service designed to improve interactions between law enforcement and people living with intellectual, behavioral and developmental conditions.
Crow Wing County provides services to more than 430 people living with disabilities and an additional 530 vulnerable people over the age of 65. Crow Wing Community Services is supporting the implementation of Vitals and helping eligible individuals identify appropriate funding resources.
“As soon as we learned about Vitals, we saw the immediate impact a service like this could
have in our communities,” said Trish Exsted, the county’s disability services supervisor, in a news release. “This technology allows consumers with special needs greater independence. It also protects individuals and creates safer communities by providing up-to-date information to
police and emergency personnel.”
Nick Tietz, Vitals co-founder and chief digital officer, recently spent time in the lakes area to promote the app to potential clients and to train officers on how it works. Vitals, a Twin Cities-based tech company, developed the app-based service in partnership with The Autism Society of Minnesota. Tietz said as the founders were working on the app—a two-year process—they began working with other nonprofits as they realized the app could help more than just people with autism. The app works for anyone with any medical/mental health illness or vulnerable condition, such as bipolar disorder, depression, dementia, schizophrenia, epilepsy or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Vitals works by equipping first responders with information voluntarily provided by Vitals enrollees. An enrollee must download the app in order for the first responders to see their information. A vulnerable person or their caregiver must register online, get the app and then the vulnerable person wears a beacon that can be a keychain, necklace, debit card, bracelet or an Android phone, Tietz said.
Tietz said once a person has the beacon on their person and comes within 80 feet of an officer or first responder also equipped with the service, the officer or responder will get a notification about the person’s diagnosis and how they may best interact with them.
Tietz said they developed Vitals because they heard law enforcement officers state many times that if they only would have known the vulnerable person’s medical diagnosis, or mental health history and behaviors before they went on the call or interacted with the person, it would have been helpful to them in dealing with the person—who may not be able to communicate or explain their situation well.
“We all operate on the information we are given,” Tietz said. “This will increase safety, improve police interactions and connect communities.
“Families finally feel they have peace of mind and their goal … for their loved one is to give them more independence and this gives them hope. Hope that they will have a little more independence today than they did before. We feel this can help families and make them feel more safe and secure with their loved one.”
Tietz said there are vulnerable adults or children who live in fear of law enforcement as officers don’t know their condition and they are unable to express it to them. Tietz said there was an individual with a mental health condition and a person just meeting them had no idea about their condition, as often times the conditions are invisible. Tietz said this person tore up his room and had to be taken away in handcuffs.
Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted said this tool is one the lakes area has been wanting to have in place for awhile, but it never was developed. Exsted said the lakes area is growing and with a high amount of people who visit, especially during the summer months, this app will help officers respond to calls by providing them with information on someone who has a vulnerability and a person who they are not familiar with.
“This is a good fit for our area,” Exsted said. “Anywhere in law enforcement, the number of mental health related calls are significantly up. A lot of law enforcement and other services type agencies, we are all struggling to provide these services to individuals … We are working Crow Wing County Community Services who have established a base of 500 plus people who could be consumers of Vitals.”
The consumer’s information sent to the officers’ phone, when they are within 80 feet, is only there temporary. When the incident is concluded and the officer clears the area, the information will be gone.
Consumers pay a $9.95 per month fee for the service and can have as many people on the beacon as they want. Crow Wing County has a waiver system in place for people who can’t afford the service.
Capt. Scott Goddard of the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office sees Vitals as a great supplement to the training deputies receive on interacting with people with mental health conditions, it stated in a news release.
“The additional information at our fingertips can only help,” Goddard stated. “I believe Vitals can help us engage and interact more effectively with people living with mental health disabilities.”
Pequot Lakes Police Chief Eric Klang stated the Vitals app “will greatly aid our officers in interacting with not only local residents, but seasonal visitors to our area. We want to be on the front end of this technology because we immediately see the value of this service in our community.”
“It’s exciting to begin expanding our services into Greater Minnesota,” Tietz stated. “Since day one, our goal has been to get this service into the hands of anyone who needs it.”
Vitals also is partnering with PACER Center and The Arc Minnesota to build awareness
and promote the service to potential users and their families.