The public often sees police officers as crimefighters and protectors of the public.
The reality is Roseville police officers respond to hundreds of calls each year that don’t fall neatly into those categories. Officers are dispatched to assist a person in crisis, check on a homeless family sleeping out of their vehicle, or conduct a welfare check at a residence where an unhealthy amount of clutter is piling up outside.
The Roseville Police Department created the Community Action Team, or CAT, to respond to those pressing community needs in a meaningful way that helps connect people with resources.
“Many of our calls revolve around unmet needs in our community,” said Roseville Deputy Chief Joe Adams. “We’ve developed our team with a diverse set of expertise, training, and tools to help meet those unmet needs. We’re focused on creative problem-solving.”
Leading the Effort:
Sgt. Sean Johnson, a 23-year veteran of Roseville Police, said he jumped at the opportunity to lead this innovative, multidisciplinary team.
“What made me the most excited to lead this team was being on patrol and seeing some of the problems firsthand. It was frustrating because it was a revolving door - especially on the mental health side,” Johnson (pictured above) said.
“CAT has the time, the skills, and the resources to work with individuals and the problems they are facing in a holistic manner. We come up with meaningful and long-term solutions,” he said.
While police departments across the Twin Cities are investing in similar teams, Roseville is on the leading edge with a team of this size or breadth, Johnson said.
Behavioral Health Team
One of the top priorities of CAT has been addressing the surge in emergency calls for individuals in crisis, often with a history of behavioral health issues. One national study estimated that 20% of police calls involve a mental health or substance abuse crisis. That includes individuals behaving erratically, describing visions, or paranoia, and threatening harm to themselves or others. Some residents with untreated mental illness have called 911 more than 100 times a year.
Police Officers Phil Tanis and Bryan Anderson and CAT social workers respond to many of those emergency calls involving a person in crisis. The team helps to stabilize the situation and connect the person with services including Ramsey County Mental Health and Crisis. Much of the focus is put toward building relationships with struggling individuals. The team works quickly and intentionally to pull in clients’ families and other support systems. Often, the goal is to build a care team before the next crisis occurs.
“As a member of the CAT, it has given me the opportunity to take my time with clients who need the behavioral health support and not feel like I have to race to the next 911 call,” Bryan Anderson said.
“We sit down and get to know them. We build trust and rapport when they are not in crisis,” Johnson said. “When you go out and meet someone when they are at their baseline, then you can talk about real-world solutions.”
Sitting side-by-side, CAT members, clients, and family members identify the stressors or situations that may trigger a crisis. The officers and social workers help individuals draft or revise an action plan to resolve those issues before they escalate to an emergency.
workers help individuals draft or revise an action plan to resolve those issues before they escalate to an emergency.
Officers try to gather as much information as possible during those visits including: Do they have transportation issues to get to doctors’ appointments? Are they taking prescribed medications? Do they need advanced care? If they are feeling stressed, who can they call in their inner circle to support them?
Johnson said they are working with more than 140 clients this year.
“One of the big goals for the behavioral health team is when we have someone who is calling and using emergency services at a higher rate, how can we help stabilize individuals and ultimately, reduce those calls?” Johnson said.
“Being part of CAT’s Behavioral Health Unit is a great opportunity to spend that much-needed time and energy on these community members in need,” Phil Tanis (pictured above) said.
“It allows officers and social workers to work together, in real time. To assist people from the moment they’re in crisis through to stabilization. This is truly a special opportunity to be part of the new age of police work.”
A dangerous amount of clutter and trash accumulates around a home attracting pests. Vehicles are coming and going from a house at all hours and neighbors worry about drug dealing, prostitution, or other illegal behavior. There’s a significant uptick in 911 calls and overdoses at a local hotel.
Those are all issues for the CAT officer dedicated to investigating problem properties. Johnson said the specialized position means they can dedicate time to underlying and recurring issues.
Now that the team is nearly fully staffed, city and police leaders say they’ll spend the next year in the field, working with clients, compiling data, developing best practices, and listening to the community.
While officers have their areas of focus, everyone helps reach goals together.
“What’s different about CAT is we are very data-driven and we try to do what the community wants instead of what the police department thinks is important,” Johnson said. “Our entire strategy is designed around what the community thinks is important at this moment.”
Social Worker Perspective
Social Worker Molli Slade is one of the newest members of CAT. She joined in April. Molli comes with a unique vantage point as she is a Roseville resident and a former member of the city’s Human Rights Commission from 2012 to 2015.
Molli works closely with Ramsey County Social Workers Sally Vanerstrom and Dunia Ahmed, who are also embedded in RPD. Molli’s position is a collaboration between the city and nonprofit partner – People Inc.
Back when Molli served as a Human Rights Commissioner, police leaders were meeting with community members and brainstorming about this type of multidisciplinary team. She said it’s thrilling to see how the department has evolved to assist individuals in need.
“We recognize that we can’t arrest our way out of many of today’s problems. We need to look at these issues more holistically and with long-term solutions in mind,” said Molli Slade.
Statistically, suburbs have a similar amount of mental health concerns as big cities, but it’s often veiled, Molli said.
“The same mental health issues are going on behind closed doors. We have older parents who have raised their children with mental health issues. They have had private insurance and haven’t had to interact with the system at all because the parents have been able to take care of them,” Molli said. “Now, the parents are getting older and the adult children with mental health issues are often still living at home. Something as simple as refusing to take medications can yield conflicts, emergency calls, and injuries.”
Homelessness is often the most visible in large cities, but it’s become an urgent need in suburbs. As overflowing Minneapolis and St. Paul shelters turn people away, they sometimes choose to migrate to surrounding communities. That’s another area where CAT is responding to emerging community needs.
Roseville’s Homeless Outreach Coordinator Cari McCollor, along with other members of the CAT team, reaches out to individuals sleeping outdoors or panhandling on busy roads.
“Homelessness is not a crime,” Cari said. “We’re here to help people find stable living situations.”
Cari’s work often starts with helping people find food and temporary shelter. Cari helps them get identification cards, birth certificates, and other documents needed to get into shelters, support programs, and more permanent housing programs. “Cari excels at getting people into a better position to be eligible for many of the programs that currently exist," Johnson said. “She helps people to refill their prescriptions, reconnect with family, secure clothing, get bus passes, and a list of other tasks that support a more positive path forward.”
“There are instances when mental health has led to homelessness and conversely, homelessness has negatively contributed to a person’s mental health. This is why it’s so important to have these skillsets in our collective toolkit,” Johnson emphasized."
While much of CAT’s mission focuses on innovative techniques and tools beyond the criminal justice system, the team has an important crimefighting role.
Officer Christine Marston specializes on human trafficking often connected to prostitution. Officer Jonah Figueiredo focuses on auto theft.
“These are crimes that take a significant amount of investigation bandwidth and resources, said Johnson. These are crimes that profoundly impact the community.”
CAT conducts investigative details and other complex investigations. They frequently work in close collaboration with neighboring law enforcement agencies and various nonprofit advocates.
“In human trafficking investigations, we identify key players who are recruiting, organizing, and transporting victims and profiting from these actions,” Johnson said. “We are trying to disrupt these operations and help the victims of these crimes.”
The department partners and relies on nonprofits like Source MN to support victims of human trafficking that are discovered during these investigations.
In both human trafficking and auto thefts, CAT is building cases, working with prosecutors, and securing convictions. A recent investigation led by Marston had made a significant dent in a large-scale, national trafficking operation. Three men were arrested and charged for trafficking-related offenses and await sentencing.
“The biggest hurdle we are facing is how much demand there is,” Marston said. “We are working hard to keep this out of our city.”
Click here to learn more about CAT and get in touch with the team.