Sometimes the difference between life and death may be as simple as a phone call by one concerned friend or relative, and a new Bloomington Police Department program is attempting to facilitate those calls through an anonymous tip line.
The Crisis or Violent Extremist Reporting tip line was created recently to connect people in need with resources available in Bloomington or Hennepin County. The COVER Program is intended to serve as “one central spot to report two different types of behaviors,” according to Bloomington Police Chief Jeff Potts.
The tip line will serve as a resource for addressing concerns brought forth by the community, but “we won’t process them the same,” Potts noted.
Bloomington police officers respond to several suicide calls annually. Many times a friend or family member will note that there were comments of concern by a deceased friend or relative, but the witness didn’t know who to call or how to express the concern. With the tip line, that person can leave a voice mail message for the police department, anonymously if necessary, and the message will be forwarded to the patrol supervisor on duty. The follow-up to the message will be based upon the information provided, using protocols established by the department, Potts explained.
Likewise, there are often indications a person planned a mass-casualty incident, but those indicators weren’t known to law enforcement agencies prior to their responding to the incident, Potts noted.
“The police never really had an opportunity to intervene,” he said.
Tips called into the police department regarding extremist behavior don’t automatically initiate a criminal investigation. The information is vetted to determine the type of response necessary, if there is one. The tip line isn’t intended to replace a 911 call but is intended to facilitate help through community resources for those who may need it, before a person’s actions reach the point of a 911 call, according to Potts.
The tip line is the result of a process the police department has been working on for approximately two years, Potts said.
One of the police department’s resources is a Hennepin County social worker who operates within the police department. The police department pays 60% of the costs associated with a full-time social worker’s salary, and that person works to address issues in the community that are outside the scope of Bloomington’s police officers. The licensed social worker began working with the police department earlier this year, which allowed for the roll out of the tip line, Potts explained.
The addition of a social worker within the police department will help narrow the gap in response to a crisis, according to Potts.
If police officers respond to a crisis call and there’s not a criminal violation or a medical situation that requires transport to a hospital, it can take time for a report forwarded by the department to be assessed by a county social worker. With a social worker dedicated to Bloomington reports, the response can occur during the same day an officer reports an issue. And the department’s social worker has the same access to resources and programs available throughout the county, Potts explained.
Since 2014, calls for service involving people in crisis have increased from approximately 700 per year to about 1,500 in 2018, he noted.
The tip line is set up with voicemail to encourage calls by people who might not want to talk to a 911 dispatcher of police department representative or answer questions about the call, Potts added.
The program is one of many outreach programs the department offers.
“We have a long history of trying to be proactive,” Potts said. With a variety of community meet-and-greet events throughout the year, the program is an attempt to leverage the relationships and trust the department has built, according to Potts. “We don’t want to sit back and wait for the next major tragedy, is there anything we can do?
“Our community has a high expectation of our police department to keep them safe,” he said.
The program is a work in progress. Just as the police department vets calls about crimes in the city, it will vet calls about people living and working in the city.
“We understand the role and boundaries we can operate in,” Potts noted.
The tip line is for Bloomington, but tips that may come in regarding communities outside of the police department’s jurisdiction will be forwarded to the appropriate agency, he said.
The tip line is 952-563-4673 (HOPE).
Information about the program is available online at tr.im/bpd-cover.
Follow Bloomington community editor Mike Hanks on Twitter at @suncurrent and on Facebook at suncurrentcentral.