Just this year, Sioux Falls Police say 81 people have overdosed on drugs and 22 of them died. Officers also say 21 people have died by suicide in 2019. The number of police calls involving mental health and drug addiction continue to increase. That’s why the department is announcing a mental health community resource officer.
Sioux Falls Police officers have a lot of ground to cover, but Officer Sarah VanVoorst says drugs and mental issues are common factors in many of the city’s calls. She remembers helping a mother, who’s son was abusing drugs.
“I ran into her two years later. I didn’t know who she was, but she remembered who I was. She was in tears, thanking me,” VanVoorst said.
VanVoorst will be bringing five years of patrol experience with her to her new role as mental health community resource officer.
“The biggest tool we have is talking with people. We talk with people every day. We’re able to de-escalate situations as officers every day, just by talking with people,” VanVoorst said.
VanVoorst will be the main link between the department and the upcoming triage center and mental health court. She says she’ll work with people who need treatment, who don’t necessarily need to be behind bars.
“I’ll be the eyes and ears for the team. Watching to see, is this person following along with their goals for mental health court, are they not? And I will report back, and we can, as a team, come together and try to decide how to help them,” VanVoorst said.
“We see the need, clearly, our community is reeling in a lot of different ways from substance abuse and mental health issues. For us, it’s a legitimate and very much-needed investment,” Chief Matt Burns said.
VanVoorst starts her new job in the spring, and knows — when it comes to mental health and substance use disorder — we all have a lot of ground to cover.
“People feel hesitant to bring up they have mental health concerns. Further educating them, that it’s not a choice they’re making, it’s a medical concern they need to get help with,” VanVoorst said.
VanVoorst has already begun training for mental health court, substance use and suicide calls for her new job, and has previously also worked at LifeScape. Burns says the City Council approved this position for 2020, and says it may allow police to intercept these cases before they lead to serious crimes. That could save taxpayers money.