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Sen. Ernst sees impact of YSS, MPD partnership

TR PHOTOS BY TREVOR BABCOCK — Sen. Joni Ernst speaks with Marshalltown Police Chief Mike Tupper about the MPACT program.

Receiving a visit from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), the Marshalltown Police Department and Youth & Shelter Services (YSS) presented their program teaming law enforcement and social workers to answer 911 calls.

“I think that this pilot program is an exceptional move,” Ernst said during her visit on Friday. “As we watch it grow and develop and work through different situations, it’s something that hopefully we can model.”

The program titled MPACT, Marshalltown Police and Community Team, started Feb. 1 and is funded through the year.

The Marshalltown Police Department hired two social workers from YSS to become community advocates, answering 911 calls when deemed appropriate in an effort to avoid arrests and uses of force.

“I’ve learned along the way that when we have to arrest somebody that the crime has already occured and we’ve failed,” Chief Mike Tupper told Ernst. “If we can truly help people and keep them out of the system, that’s when we’re really going to see success.”

Kiera Bradstream shows Sen. Joni Ernst one of her paintings displayed in the halls of the Youth Services Shelter.

He said over half of the 800 to 850 service calls the department receives involve mental health crises, homelessness, social service needs — situations Tupper feels cannot be helped with law enforcement.

“Law enforcement gets called back again and again and again, and all we can bring is law enforcement solutions,” Tupper said. “Ultimately someone ends up being arrested. They end up in the criminal justice system and maybe they don’t need to be, and it’s hard to get out once they get in.”

Ernst also spoke directly with the first contact of the MPACT program — 13-year-old Kiera Bradstream. Kiera had attempted to enter Woodbury Elementary School to receive a phone charger. The school called the police, believing Kiera was attempting to break in. The police brought community advocate Autumn Drewelow to the scene to deescalate the situation and provide Kiera with help.

“I was scared. I was crying. I was stressed,” Kiera said. “Autumn definitely recognized that, so she really calmed me down.”

Prior to the situation, Kiera was also dealing with issues which were revealed to her parents after the incident. She began receiving therapy from YSS through the MPACT program. After slowly beginning to trust and open up to her therapist over time, she is noticeably brighter, more focused.

en. Joni Ernst talks to Kiera and Lana Bradstream (Right) and community advocate Autumn Drewelow (middle) about how the MPACT program has helped to improve Kiera’s mental health.

“I’ve really sorted through my feelings and opened them up because I had just a bunch of stuff bottled up,” Kiera said. “I knew I needed help, but I didn’t really want to face it. I’m glad I did because if I didn’t come here, I probably wouldn’t be here.”

Now Kiera is looking forward to applying to colleges such as Harvard University and The Juilliard School, weighing fields of study such as photography, architecture, archaeology, botany and biology. At the top of her list is joining the military.

“Your story is very valuable to me,” Ernst told Kiera. “It’s something I can take and share with other senators from other states who don’t have programs like this, to understand the need for why we do this.”

Ernst said Kiera’s story is a perfect example of how the MPACT program can make positive progress.

“I think we can move a lot of people that need different types of assistance to the resources they need rather than creating law enforcement situations where maybe there’s an arrest or they’re going to jail,” Ernst said. “That’s not helping those people in need, it’s not decreasing the crisis situation.”

In the first two months of the program, 42 calls have yielded services to 60 people.

Of the 60 people served, 29 noted mental health issues as the primary concern, 14 had family conflict as a primary concern, seven were homeless. The rest dealt with substance abuse and runaways.

While the upfront cost of the program was $150,000 for the year provided by the Marshalltown City Council, Tupper believes the result of the program will save money in the long run.

“It’s very expensive to prosecute and incarcerate people,” Tupper said. “If we can keep people out of the system, it’s going to have a long-term benefit on our community and in the state of Iowa and in this country.”

He also hopes the city will continue to fund the program after 2021. Ernst said having strong data supporting the positive impact of the program will go a long way in getting more funding and displaying progress.

“I’m going to know it from the stories, but you have to be able to quantify everything,” Ernst said.

(Kiera Bradstream is the daughter of Times-Republican editor Lana Bradstream.)

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Contact Trevor Babcock at tbabcock@timesrepublican.com or 641-753-6611.

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