Local public safety agencies launch Vitals program

Winters Police Department raised enough funds to purchase eight Mental Health Kits for all of Winters fire engines and patrol cars. Courtesy photo

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Personnel at the Winters Police and Fire Departments are now using the Vitals app as a tool and resource to better communicate and respond to people who are non-verbal are are unable to communicate well with first responders and emergency personnel.

Vitals serves as a real-time, immediate resource to first responders and local police officers. It sends an alert to their device with critical information about an individual’s specific needs and conditions when they are within a specific amount of feet from them – enabling safer interactions and positive outcomes.

Winters Police Chief John P. Miller said Yolo County District Attorney, Jeff Resig offered the Vitals app to all first responders and law enforcement agencies in the county in September.

Resig said the service will make everyone safer while creating more collaboration between law enforcement officers and communities they serve that are often misunderstood.

“It is important to find ways we can all work together to protect each other. With Vitals, I believe we’ve found a platform that leverages technology, which can help create peaceful interactions with first responders and the communities they serve,” Reisig said.

Winters West Sacramento and police officers, Winters firefighters, Yolo probation officers and

Yolo DA Investigators will begin using the Vitals app this fall according to a county media release. Making Yolo County the second community in California, but first in the nation where a district attorney brought Vitals service to its first responders and community.

Miller said how the program works is that community members in need of the service voluntarily register individualized information for each participant. This includes individualized information as well as important information on how to best communicate with the individual and alerts to potential triggers.

“If we have a non-communication juvenile or adult it will basically give us a heads up. It has all of their data, emergency contact, and ways to interact with them. If they are prone to a triggering incident it will tell us how to avoid a triggering reaction,” Miller said.

Miller said currently WPD has the Special Needs Alert Program (SNAP) operating in the department to help provide communications for individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia, autism or a speech disorder. However, SNAP is limited in the type of information given to first responders and officers on site. Miller said if the individual is unable to communicate then the SNAP program fails both individual and responding personnel.

Vitals will bring more communication, more individualized information and more tools to Winters public safety officials who are called to assist someone with Alzehinser’s, dementia or a spectrum disorder.

Winters Fire Captain Cheyne P. Baumgart also noted the addition of Vitals is crucial to helping better communication for first responders. He said the community will play a major role in the Vitals program by not just signing up, but also encouraging participation.

“Getting the word out to friends, family and the rest of the community will make that program stronger. It really won’t work unless people are enrolled in it,” Baumgart said.

Community members who believe they or an individual in their home would benefit from Vitals service are encouraged to register online at https://thevitalsapp.com/.

Miller said participants will need to get a beacon device and download the app on their smartphone. Yolo County was offering the first 100 beacons free to new registered users.

More information about the beacons and plans are available on the Vitals website.

Mental Health Toolkits
WPD and WFD are also soon going to have Mental Health Toolkits on hand. Officer Thomas Letterman recently accepted a donated Mental Health Toolkit for First Responders funded through a GoFundMe campaign in Sacramento County.

The tools inside the backpack kit provide officers and first responders resources to help communicate with an individual on scene, as well as provide the individual with some comfort.

Baumgart said some of the tools include white boards, sensory items, fidgets, stress relief items, distractors, ear muffs, a stool to sit on and visual communication cards to allow personnel to communicate or help ease nerves in high-anxiety situations or assist non-verbal individuals..

Along with the kit, training will be provided on how to use the enclosed tools.

Letterman said at his critical intervention training, a mandatory course for all WPD officers, some of the speakers topics hit home. In Winters first responders regularly arrive on scene to assist or handle situations where an individual lives with mental health issues, has Alzheimer’s or dementia or a spectrum disorder.

 I felt that with our job, no matter what we do, we are always going to come into contact with someone with a mental illness. We’re going to deal with this on a daily basis,” said Letterman. I saw this as a tool that can definitely help us out on patrol and give us another tool to bring towards dealing with any one of these situations.”

Letterman said WPD hosted a GoFundMe campaign with the intention to raise funds to bring more toolkits to the department. They set a goal of $400, but doubled that with support from community and other law enforcement donations to $800.

We raised enough for each of our patrol cars and fire engines. Eight backpacks total for the police and fire side,” Letterman said.

Baumgart agreed saying the toolkit will help to bridge that gap where, at the current time, right now they would have to get very creative to be able to communicate with someone who was unable to or who didn’t know the information.

WPD currently has the one Mental Health Toolkit on hand as they wait for the eight additional ones to arrive.

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