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Watertown police officers are frequently called to incidents where people are in a mental health crisis or suffer from substance abuse and addiction. From September 2019 to September 2020, WPD Officers responded to 368 mental health related calls. Individuals were held in protective custody in 167 of these instances. There were eight completed suicides, 60 attempted suicide calls, and 182 suicide threat calls. This is an increasing and disturbing trend across the nation and in South Dakota.
Thanks to a Federal COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) grant, the Watertown Police Department is pleased to announce the addition of a new community resource to help address the issues related to mental health and substance abuse calls. The WPD is developing a Mental Health Officer (MHO) program with the goal to reduce violent crime, reduce arrests of people with mental illness or addictions, and increase the likelihood that individuals will receive ongoing mental health services and treatment. Having a dedicated MHO will not only benefit the individuals in need of help, it will reduce the time police officers spend responding to mental health calls, freeing them up to focus on other law enforcement priorities. This will be accomplished through crisis stabilization, follow-up, and long term team support.
Mental Health Officers do not treat or diagnose the individuals, but work with behavioral health professionals to develop specific solutions to reduce repeat interactions. Community partnerships with agencies throughout Watertown is critical to the success of the program. This will be a proactive team approach by providing outreach and follow-up to repeat callers. This approach strives to keep people connected to mental health services and community resources, to abide by treatment plans, and to meet other responsibilities such as work and school.
It is our honor to announce that Officer Alexis Buysse has been selected to serve as Watertown’s first MHO. She has been serving our community as a patrol officer since May of 2016. She is a graduate from the Lake Area Technical College Law Enforcement Program, a current DARE Instructor and SWAT Team Member. She is a dedicated, community oriented officer, who will serve Watertown well in this capacity.
We are in the early stages of developing the program and are looking forward to the impact it will have in our community.