New system helps Fort Smith police deal with the ‘vulnerable’ in times of need

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 710 views 

The Fort Smith Police Department is making another move to help the city’s mentally ill and other at-risk individuals get the help they need as quickly as possible. The department launched a Vulnerable Persons Database Monday (July 27) on its website.

The service will allow FSPD officers quick access to vital information on a vulnerable person who could be at risk, a press release said. The service is entirely voluntary and will not be used to track criminal behavior, the press release said.

“It will give officers responding to a call about a vulnerable person with something like Alzheimer’s or autism split-second, real-world information,” said Captain Daniel Grubbs.

Information might include a current photo; identifiable physical characteristics; typical directions a person might head, patterns or places they visit; and certain triggers an officer might need to avoid when approaching the person.

“It can also help us in reverse. If we find a person who is (nonverbal or not responding to an officer), we can check their photo with the database,” Grubbs said, noting that in those instances valuable information would be accessed immediately and help the officer get the person back where they need to be.

Fort Smith Police Chief Danny Baker has said his first priority once being named chief of police was to change the culture that once existed in the department. A key component of that was to develop a vision statement that focused on improving the lives of everyone the police encountered instead of focusing merely on enforcement.

“It meant getting out into the community and building relationships with every segment of our community. It meant establishing as many meaningful non-enforcement contacts as we could and making community policing just as important to the job as the enforcement aspects,” Baker said.

It also meant training officers to work to de-escalate situations as quickly as possible. The database can also be a source of more reliable information that what often is offered at the time of an emergency.

“You can fill out the form with all the information when you aren’t panicked,” Grubbs said.

Doing so, he added, allows for more complete information on a vulnerable person because most people do not think of everything they need to communicate at times of stress.

Under Baker’s directive, FSPD Command Staff established the Crisis Intervention Unit in March. The unit went live on April 1.

“Since we established the Crisis Intervention Unit, our department as a whole has been called to assist 160 suicidal individuals and 167 living with some form of mental impairment,” Baker said in the press release. “Unfortunately, 13 of our citizens have taken their lives since the first of the year, and we have another 20 unknown death investigations, many of which show indications of drug overdose. This is not okay, and we are going to do everything in our power to get these people and their families the support they need before their loved ones become a statistic.”

The database policy defines a vulnerable person “as an individual who could be in need of community care services by reason of mental illness, developmental disability/delay, other disability, age, illness, or emotional disturbance and who is or may be unable to take care of or protect themselves against significant harm or exploitation,” the press release said.

To participate, individuals or their guardians can complete a form on this page of the FSPD website, or in person at the information desk at the police department, 100 S. 10th St. A recent photo of the vulnerable person also should be submitted. Submission will be managed by the FSPD and protected from public disclosure by HIPAA laws.

From there, any time a call is associated with that individual, the Responding Officers will be made immediately aware of the vulnerable person’s risk factors and needs. The data will be transferred to the FSPD Crisis Intervention Unit following an encounter for ongoing assistance, the press release said.

“I think this will tremendously help the police department do its job and help the community,” Grubbs said.