Dakota County launches Vitals service countywide
Dakota County is now the first county in Minnesota to roll out Vitals™ Aware Services countywide. An estimated minimum of 70,000 people could benefit from this new service designed to improve interactions between law enforcement and people living with intellectual, behavioral and developmental challenges.
The Dakota County Sheriff’s Department, along with ten city police departments within the county, are working together to launch this new technology to help deputies, officers and other first responders interact more effectively with vulnerable residents, including those with autism, dementia, developmental disabilities, and mental health challenges. Approximately 500 law enforcement officers will be trained to use the service over the next two to three months.
“Every time my son leaves the house, I’m worried,” said Farmington resident Nancy Nelson, mother of a 21-year-old who has a developmental disability and works in Apple Valley. “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.”
Dakota County Social Services is supporting the implementation of Vitals™ by helping connect individuals to funding for the service if they are determined eligible for county assistance.
The service works by equipping first responders with information voluntarily provided by Vitals™ enrollees. Dakota County law enforcement will download the Vitals™ First Responders app on 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, or bracelet. An Android phone can also serve as the beacon. When a Vitals™ user comes within 80 feet of an officer or first responder with the service, the officer will get a notification about the person’s diagnosis and how they may best interact with them.
Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie said adding Vitals™ only enhances work underway to support law enforcement with training and best practices around interactions with people with disabilities. This new service ties in perfectly with crisis intervention training provided to first responders.
“Our deputies and officers will benefit from having immediate information in their hands, right at the scene of the situation,” Leslie said. “This additional information can and will change how certain interactions take place.”
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 residents living with disabilities and mental health challenges. By law, information can be shared in specific moments of crisis. The challenge is that officers may not have enough time to contact Social Services to get the information and support they need.
“That’s why we got excited when we learned about Vitals™,” said Andrea Zuber, Dakota County Social Services director. “We thought it would be a great way for officers to have more immediate information about the people they would be interacting with.”
“Expanding into the 587-square-mile Dakota County will benefit thousands of people in the metro area,” said Stan Alleyne, chief of communications and partnerships for Vitals™. “Dakota County has a population of about 418,000, with a minimum of 70,000 people diagnosed with conditions ranging from depression, autism, schizophrenia, dementia and other disorders.”
“We believe that our services will help save lives, give individuals and their families more peace of mind and help enhance policing,” Alleyne said. “It’s awesome to see the look on faces when we share this new technology with them. People are inspired. People are moved.”
Vitals™ Aware Services, a Twin Cities-based tech company, developed the app-based service in partnership with the Autism Society of Minnesota. The service was launched last August in St. Paul and has expanded to Roseville, Chaska, Hopkins and the Three Rivers Park District.
“We are proud of the leadership of Dakota County and look forward to the day when every police department and vulnerable individual around the country will have access to our services,” said Nick Tietz, Vitals™ co-founder and chief digital officer.
Vitals™ is also partnering with PACER Center and The Arc Minnesota to build awareness and promote the service to potential users and their families. To learn more about Vitals™, go to www.thevitalsapp.com.