Dakota County is proposing a new facility - the SMART (Safety and Mental Health Alternative

Response Training) Center - for law enforcement and first responder training and offices.

Dakota County's proposed SMART Center came in part due to space needs and new training requirements. It would provide space for mental health, diversity and crisis intervention training, as well as space for the growing electronic crimes and drug task forces to work, Sheriff Tim Leslie said. Construction is proposed in Inver Grove Heights.

"It's a progressive, timely, contemporary (approach) toward where people think law enforcement and our gaps are, emcompasses first responders, and attacks a problem that's emerging," he said.

The electronic crimes task force started three years ago after the Dakota County Sheriff's Office received grant money and focuses on finding electronic forensic evidence in domestic and sexual violence cases. Between sheriff's office staff and local departments officers, there will soon be six people on the task force, Leslie said.

A Dakota County drug task force made up of sheriff's deputies and cities' officers would use space in the SMART Center.

Leslie said the building would house crisis intervention and mental health training for several public safety departments. An omnibus public safety bill passed during the last state legislative session added funding for law enforcement agencies to add more crisis response, conflict management and cultural diversity training.

"When is enough training on mental illness or crisis enough?" Leslie said. "Is there a saturation point? I don't think there is."

Sue Abderholden with Minnesota National Alliance for Mental Illness, said a facility like this is one part of the solution to a multi-faceted problem.

While there needs to be emergency room staff, dispatchers and mobile mental health units with mental health-trained staff, there also needs to be more training for law enforcement and first responders, she said.

Abderholden and the NAMI chapter connects individuals with mental illness to tell their stories for crisis intervention training with law enforcement, and would do so for the SMART Center if it moves ahead.

Leslie said placing the building in Inver Grove Heights gives them greater access to the metro, and better opportunities to fold in other communities.

The county has listed Inver Hills Community College, Minnesota Crisis Intervention Training,

11 Dakota County cities, Criminal Justice Network, Dakota Communication Center, 360 Communities, Casa De Esperanza, the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, and the Minnesota Alliance on Crime as potential supporters of the facility.

The HERO problem

The HERO (Health and Emergency Response Occupations) Center, has been long planned by Cottage Grove and Woodbury Public Safety as a regional training facility housed in Cottage Grove. The HERO Center and the SMART Center are both seeking bonding dollars from the 2018 Legislature.

The two buildings may fracture bonding spending this session, Cottage Grove, Woodbury and Dakota County officials fear.

The SMART Center's price tag is $13.2, and the county is asking for half from state bonding. The other $6.6 million is already in their county budget plan.

Woodbury and Cottage Grove are asking for $9.7 million, half the cost of the facility. The rest of the cost would be split between the two cities.

The SMART Center does not have gun ranges or reality-based training rooms like the HERO Center is proposing. Leslie said Dakota County already has the facilities they need for that kind of training.

"There's concern over (bonding) and I don't know what that means (for us)," he said. "Wouldn't it be great if they could come and join us, but I don't think that meets their needs of the range."

Dakota County Sheriff and the Cottage Grove and Woodbury public safety teams both say the need exists for both: the snag is the Legislature may not see a the different uses for the building, and choose one over the other.

"I don't think we're in conflict in our concepts, but we may be in conflict with our messaging when it gets down to our state Legislature," Woodbury Public Safety Director Lee Vague said.

Woodbury and Cottage Grove have made the HERO Center their No. 1 Legislative priority; Dakota County has made the SMART Center their No. 1.

"Their needs are different than mine," Leslie said. "I hope they're successful in getting what they need."