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Police, YSS partnership already making MPACT

T-R PHOTO BY JOE FISHER MPACT community advocates Darcy Andersen and Autumn Drewelow have already been responding to calls in the first weeks since the program’s launch.

Interactions between the police and public are changing in Marshalltown.

The Marshalltown Police Department and Youth Shelter Services have launched their pilot program MPACT — Marshalltown Police and Community Team.

The program teams law enforcement with social workers to help people in crisis without the need to make arrests when possible.

Two social workers, called community advocates, respond to calls with the police department when their services are appropriate. After police determine the situation is safe, the advocates can work with people to provide resources.

The idea for the program came, in part, from last summer’s nationwide calls for police reform. Chief Mike Tupper heard those calls.

“I spent the entire spring and summer listening to the community and listening nationally about what was going on with policing,” Tupper said. “People want to see more diversion from the criminal justice system. I agree with that. It’s my responsibility as police chief to make sure we’re providing quality services in the community. I saw this as an opportunity to improve the services we’re providing.”

Two community advocates — Darcy Andersen and Autumn Drewelow — were brought onboard to work alongside Marshalltown police officers. In their first days on the job they’ve already been responding to calls and making a difference.

“We dove right in and took a few calls the first few days we’ve worked,” Andersen said. “We’ve had a couple people who have been met with suicidal thoughts and behaviors where other people have called in for them. We’ve gone and sat next to them and chatted with them.”

Being able to make referrals for mental health services was one of the most apparent needs which were identified before starting this program but it’s not the only thing the advocates can help with. They also have resources to help with poverty related issues.

“A lot of calls we’ve handled so far have related to housing security and insecurity,” Drewelow said. “There’s been a great deal of that due to the inclement weather.”

Drewelow grew up in Marshalltown and moved back around the same time MPACT was being discussed.

“I only moved away to pursue a degree in social work,” she said. “To come back and see Marshalltown experimenting with something new in the best interest of the community was incredibly exciting. My experiences in Marshalltown are what inspired me to pursue a career in social work.”

Both advocates are excited to be involved in the start of something special like MPACT. They said Marshalltown is an especially ideal town for a service like this because of the needs here and what the town has been through in recent years.

“In Marshalltown, we are strong but we have endured a lot,” Andersen said.

“The amount of trauma any individual can endure through the tornado, the derecho and the pandemic — the population affected hardest are people who tend to feel the ramifications of insecurity,” Drewelow said.

As a pilot program, there is really no telling how it will evolve or how deep its impact will be, according to Ryan Keller, program supervisor and mental health therapist with YSS.

“We’re just excited that we’ve heard a lot of positives. In our first few interactions we’ve made good connections,” he said.

There are many organizations which can be useful to people in need in Marshalltown, but Keller said one of the barriers they face is not always knowing where to look for help. That’s where MPACT can bridge the gap.

“The goal of these community advocates is they know some of the things that can help,” Keller said. “It’s about connecting people with the resources they need to essentially overcome.”

Tupper hopes providing resources to people in various crises may help keep some from needing to be arrested. While much of the population may not have interactions with the police at all, he said giving these interactions positive outcomes will make the community safer as a whole.

“Are we better off investing in people up front and delivering them away from the criminal justice system, instead of arresting our way out of problems?” he said. “A lot of the social problems we deal with in this community, I don’t know if sending the cops in to arrest someone is always the right answer. Trying to help people with different life hurdles is something as a community we need to look at.”

The Marshalltown City Council agreed to $150,000 to launch and fund MPACT through its first year. Tupper said they are already exploring options to fund the program in the future.

“I’m confident this is going to be a successful program,” he said. “We have a big job ahead of us. We don’t want to start a program and not be able to sustain it. If anybody has funding ideas or wants to know more about the program they can call me.”

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Contact Joe Fisher at 641-753-6611 or jfisher@timesrepublican.com

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