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The Washington County Sheriff’s Office debuted a squad vehicle Wednesday that they will use for more than patrolling.

The vehicle is also a mobile message to increase awareness about suicide and prevention options.

Beth Ringer from the National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota (NAMI) said the newly outfitted squad car is one of a kind.

“This is the first type of this project that NAMI has been involved with,” she said. “We are really excited about it. I think it’s really innovative.”

In honor of National Suicide Prevention month, Washington County Sheriff Dan Starry said the suicide prevention awareness patrol vehicle is as fully operational as any other squad car but it is decorated in purple and teal — nationally recognized colors for suicide awareness — and lists a national suicide prevention hotline phone number and website for https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.

Washington County Sheriff’s Office staff held a press conference Wednesday morning, Sept. 5 at the Washington County Law Enforcement Center.

The squad car was a collaborative project between the Sheriff’s Office, Washington County Public Health and Environment department and NAMI to raise awareness of suicide and prevention options.

Advanced Graphix Inc., located in Vadnais Heights, donated the materials and labor for the suicide prevention awareness patrol vehicle, said Washington County Sheriff Dan Starry. The new patrol car is decorated in teal and purple. This helps the squad car stand out, he added, and he hopes it encourages the community to have more discussions about suicide awareness and prevention.

Starry said the Sheriff’s Office has received 163 suicide-related calls this year. Suicide rates rose 40 percent in Minnesota and 25 percent nationally from 1999 to 2016, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention report released in June.

“Our goal is simple: it’s to educate and bring awareness about suicide,” Starry said. “This is near and dear to our staff’s hearts.”

“This kind of project really helps to reduce the discrimination around mental illness,” Ringer added.

Lowell Johnson, director of Washington County’s public health department, said one in four people will struggle with mental illness at some point in their life time. Washington County offers a suicide prevention training, he added, called QPR: question, persuade and refer.

“We all need to band together to respond to this important issue in the community,” Johnson said.

Contact Kim Schneider at kim.schneider@ecm-inc.com

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