Dakota County leaders recently presented their plan to address first responders’ need for new training to help people suffering mental health crises.
County officials made their case for a regional public safety training facility to the Minnesota House Capital Investment Committee on March 7. State lawmakers this year will consider bonding for public infrastructure projects throughout the state.
The County is requesting $6.6 million in state bond funds to help build the Safety and Mental Health Alternative Response Training (SMART) Center. The County has already budgeted $6.6 million as a local match for the project, which is estimated at $13.2 million total.
The SMART Center, to be located near Interstate 494 in Inver Grove Heights, would offer a home to the nonprofit Minnesota Crisis Intervention Team, which provides training to law enforcement and other first responders across the state. As law enforcement increasingly are called to assist people suffering mental health crises, the Legislature last year required that all licensed peace officers in Minnesota receive crisis intervention training. Minnesota Crisis Intervention Team would be the main tenant in the SMART Center, which also would offer space to other regional law enforcement partners.
Bill sponsor Rep. Regina Barr, R-Inver Grove Heights, said the SMART Center is Dakota County’s top legislative priority this year.
“The SMART Center in Dakota County will be a great resource for law enforcement personnel from around the region,” Barr said. “Today more than ever, the type of soft skills the SMART Center will focus on are an extremely integral part of law enforcement work. This is a great project for our area and I am proud to carry the funding for it in the House.”
Dakota County Commissioner Joe Atkins said the project is different from any other because it involves combining the best practices of public health and public safety.
“This may be the most important bonding project that I’ve ever been associated with,” said Atkins, a former legislator.
Joe Leko, chief deputy of the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office, said officers need training in soft skills, such as crisis intervention, in order to meet the demands and new challenges facing officers. He shared with committee members a story of how a Dakota County sheriff deputy’s crisis intervention training was helpful in peacefully resolving a potentially dangerous incident.
“Our work is changing, our profession is changing,” Leko said. “We must change with it.”
The SMART Center proposal has support from first responder agencies in Dakota County and the surrounding area. County and statewide organizations also have expressed support for the project. A bipartisan group of lawmakers has signed on as bill co-authors.
Michael Peterson, executive director of the Minnesota Crisis Intervention Team, said the SMART Center would provide his organization with a permanent location to provide initial and ongoing crisis response training. Peterson said the training involves learning to actively listen, empathize and understand people in a crisis situation in order to resolve incidents safely. Peterson called it a “perishable skill” that needs to be honed from time to time.
“I don’t think this training is ever going to stop,” Peterson said.
The SMART Center proposal also has been introduced in the Senate, where it is sponsored by Sen. Matt Klein, DFL-Mendota Heights.