Dakota County became the first county in Minnesota to roll out the Vitals Aware Services countywide. The new service is designed to improve interactions between law enforcement and people living with intellectual, behavioral and developmental challenges.
Over the next two to three months, about 500 law enforcement officers will be trained to use the service. The Dakota County Sheriff's Office and ten city police departments within the county are working together to launch the new technology to help deputies, officers and first responders interact more effectively with vulnerable residents including those with dementia, developmental disabilities and mental health challenges.
Nancy Nelson is a Farmington resident and mother of a 21-year-old with developmental disability. She said she worries every time her son leaves the house.
"Vitals will give him added protection when he's out and about. It's going to make a huge difference in my son's life," she said.
The service works by equipping first responders with information voluntarily provided by enrollees to Vitals. Dakota County law enforcement will download the Vitals First Responders app to their cellphones. The service allows a vulnerable person to register online, then wear a beacon that takes the form of a keychain, necklace, debit card and bracelet.
When a Vitals user is within 80 feet of an officer or first responder with the service, the officer will be notified of the person's diagnosis and how they may best interact with them.
Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie said Vitals enhances the work already underway to support law enforcement with training around interactions with people with disabilities. For example, officers are already being trained in crisis intervention training.
Dakota County Community Services and county law enforcement departments have met regularly for a couple of years to identify and implement effective strategies around law enforcement interactions with resident living with disabilities and mental health challenges. By law, information can be shared in specific moments of crisis but the challenge is officers may not have enough time to contact Social Services to get the information and support they need.
Leslie said through the Vitals service, officers will benefit from having immediate information at the scene of a situation.
"This additional information can and will change how certain interactions take place," Leslie said.
Vitals Aware Services is a Twin Cities-based tech company that developed the app-based service in partnership with The Autism Society of Minnesota. It was launched in August 2017 in St. Paul and has expanded to Roseville, Chaska, Hopkins and the Three Rivers Park District.