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Here to help

FDPD, mental health provider join forces

Brittany Baker

Local people in the depths of an urgent mental health crisis or who perhaps have some lingering, gnawing anxiety now have a new source of help.

And the police officers who are often the first to come in contact with people struggling with mental illness now have a new source of support and professional advice.

Brittany Baker is fulfilling both of those roles through a new partnership between the Fort Dodge Police Department and Central Iowa Community Services (CICS)

Baker is now working out of an office in the Webster County Law Enforcement Center. From there, she will be helping those with mental health problems that officers come in contact with. Her work will range from helping get mentally ill people in touch with the proper health providers to going to scenes to help officers deal with someone in a crisis situation.

Her work will free up officers to concentrate more on criminal justice matters. At the same time she will also be able to give officers advice on interacting with people who have mental illness.

Baker, who is a justice involved service coordinator for CICS, started working out of the Law Enforcement Center about two weeks ago.

“I have no doubt it will pay off,” Police Chief Dennis Quinn said of the new arrangement.

“She is a huge resource,” he told the City Council Monday. “She has a lot of knowledge that we don’t have. We have great officers, but they are not experts in mental health.”

Baker is a Fort Dodge native who graduated from St. Edmond High School in 2005. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Buena Vista University in Storm Lake. She has also completed a three-day training program on de-escalating people in crisis.

Baker said when officers get a call involving someone with a mental health issue, she will follow up and contact that individual. Often that will be done by phone; other times she will go to visit that person. She will also go to scenes where police are dealing with someone who is having a mental health crisis.

“I’m a safe zone for them to express themselves,” she said.

Her approach, she said, is to “treat everyone like a person, not a patient.”

That is important, she said, because a lot of people with mental illness are afraid of being “taken away.”

“A lot of these individuals have been through a lot of trauma growing up and they have not dealt with that pain,” Baker said.

She said she expects a lot of her work will involve helping people get connected with health care providers and assisting them with applying for benefits.

“When they’re stable they have so much potential,” she said of the people she will be helping.

She said the success of this effort will be measured in data. Fewer arrests of people with mental illnesses will be one measure of success, she said.

Quinn said he and his predecessor as police chief, Roger Porter, began working on a mental health program last year. He said they enlisted the help of state Rep. Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge, and “got a lot of people in a room together.” The result of all those discussions and planning is this new partnership between the Police Department and CICS.

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