Dubuque police this year have experienced a marked increase in calls related to matters of brain health or people in crisis.
The department received 519 such calls from Jan. 1 to Oct. 12, according to the latest data available. That already represents a 15% increase over the full-year average of 451 brain-health-related calls from 2016 to 2020.
On a single day this past July, the department received 13 such calls, noted interim Police Chief Jeremy Jensen.
However, he said, officers also are having success getting people connected with the resources they need to help with brain health issues.
“There’s definitely a need,” Jensen said. “... If there’s a gap in that system, then those people fall through the cracks.”
Calls initially are considered to be related to brain health when a person reports that he or she is in a crisis or if a family member or another person believes someone needs help, Jensen said. An officer also can report a suspected brain health issue.
However, Jensen noted that the department doesn’t necessarily classify a call based on what was called in or reported. That information is used as an officer tries to determine if a brain health issue is present and to see what services an individual needs.
An exact reason for the recent rise in brain health calls can’t be pinned down, he said, but the COVID-19 pandemic likely is playing some role.
“Things were there before, but the pandemic exacerbated some things and brought some things to the surface,” Jensen said. “... But it’s complicated. If we could figure out exactly where this was coming from, that would be awesome.”
Jensen shared more detailed statistics on the 519 brain-health-related calls through Oct. 12.
The calls related to 353 individual people. Jensen noted that some people might call multiple times a day or over the course of several days.
Of the total calls, 51% resulted in an individual getting help at a hospital and 23% resulted in no further action taken, Jensen said.
About 9% resulted in a committal for mental health or substance abuse reasons. Jensen said committals occur if people present an imminent danger to themselves or others.
Another 11% resulted in an arrest. But Jensen noted that not all brain health issues might be documented or tracked as such if the individual was part of alleged criminal activity.
Jensen added that the department has increased partnering with Hillcrest Family Services on calls, thanks to Hillcrest’s mobile crisis services. He said 10% of those calls this year have ended up involving Hillcrest, and he expects the number to continue increasing.
Platteville, Wis., Police Chief Doug McKinley said his department consistently monitors the number of brain-health-related calls it receives.
“I would say we’re not seeing a spike in these calls, but they haven’t gone down either,” he said.
One trend the department sees is people repeatedly calling to report brain health crises. McKinley said all involved strive to continue to improve efforts to assist individuals with brain health issues.
“There’s a broad acceptance that we can do better and we need to do better by everybody involved in the process,” he said.
Galena, Ill., Police Chief Eric Hefel said he felt that his department has gotten more brain-health-related calls as well.
“It’s not a huge influx, but it has increased a little bit,” he said.
Both McKinley and Hefel said their departments work closely with Southwest Health in Platteville and Midwest Medical Center in Galena, respectively, to connect people to the best brain health service for them.
In addition to Hillcrest, Jensen said Dubuque police have worked with the Dubuque County Sheriff’s Department, Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque and Dubuque’s hospitals on getting individuals in crisis the help they need.
“We’re definitely seeing the rewards,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s more long term between calls, and maybe they never have to call again.”
Jensen added that all Dubuque officers receive crisis-intervention training, though a team of 10 have volunteered to do a 40-hour advanced training to be even more specialized in areas of crisis.
Those on the crisis-intervention team often follow up with the people who have been the subject of brain health calls to make sure they are doing OK or are receiving the right treatment, Jensen said. Having an officer to trust or a familiar face can make a person feel more comfortable seeking further help, he said.
“We’re seeing some success,” he said. “But we have got to stay tenacious. We’ve got to stay at it and not give up.”