Rapid City PD’s Quality of Life Unit continues to make connections, impacts

RAPID CITY, S.D. – The weather is turning cold and many turn inside but for the Rapid City Police Department’s Quality of Life Unit, they’re heading outside to check on our city’s most vulnerable.

While the unit has been around for about a year and a half, the relationships between the officers and those they serve may go farther back. When the unit formed in April 2018 following a grant from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, it meant going down an unfamiliar path.

“We decided to do something very, very different and very outside the box and something revolutionary to the department,” said Senior Officer Dan Mertz. “We’re navigating uncharted waters simply because we hadn’t done this as a department.”

They don’t wear uniforms and they travel in an unmarked vehicle. The six person unit is housed in the Care Campus; a move that proves crucial to the flow of care.

Officers are able to be on site and available to people receiving the Care Campus’s services just down the hall. Mertz says it also allows them to work closely with staff members to “get the best sense of who is living in a day-to-day lifestyle of crisis” and then determine their best path of treatment.

“We always make it a point to go to detox because that’s a perfect time to interact with the individuals that we’re working with,” said Mertz. “There’s a large component of accountability with that. ‘Did you get this done? Where are you at with this? How can I help you with this?'”

While their office resides in the Care Campus, their true office is the community itself.

“We go to people, we meet them where they are,” said Mertz. “It doesn’t matter where somebody’s at, it doesn’t matter what condition they’re in, they don’t even have to be sober. They could be passed out in a park somewhere and we’re going to make an attempt to reach them, to contact them again, let them know that we see you and we’re here for you.”

Driving around, they constantly look for people to reach but many they see, they recognize and know on a first name basis.

For Senior Officer Jim Hansen, he’s been in law enforcement for 30 years and has made close connections. “I’ve watched people from when they were juveniles grow up and they’re now homeless people on the street,” said Hansen.

The number of connections they’ve formed over just the past year and a half, they say is in the hundreds. But what effect have those connections made to the community’s most vulnerable people? Mertz says there have been at least 60 people who have gone through a “transformational change”.

“Some would say that’s not much but to us that’s a huge number,” said Mertz. “When we make transformational change, that doesn’t just affect them, it affects the people who surround them. It affects their families, their kids if they have them so the ripple effect of that change goes out really far.”

While seeing the change is something they strive for, they’re reminded daily that change is a two-way street and the people needing help have to be responsible to “be part of their own success story.”

The original funding for the unit has run out but the department continues to be funded by the city due to the impacts they’ve seen over it’s life span.

“Everyone in the department is behind us,” said Hansen. “It’s always rough when you start a new unit because you don’t really know but with the command staff, plus we know how to talk to our fellow patrolmen, things just grew and being in the Care Campus, it really took off.”

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