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Dave Olson, Published July 10 2009

Mental health, chemical issues best treated early, police say

An estimated 90 percent of the people booked into the Cass County Jail deal with chemical dependency or mental health issues.

Of 628 prisoners who entered the jail in June, about 190 were identified as needing treatment for mental health problems, said Mike Reitan, assistant West Fargo police chief.

Consequently, police officers encounter individuals with those issues every day, according to Reitan, who said that getting people the help they need before things reach a boiling point is a job for the entire community.

“If we can catch the person early and keep them a viable part of the community, then they’re less apt to continue in that chemical dependency or mental health-type situation,” he said.

Reitan issued a news release this week that offers tips on how people can get help for someone they care about.

He said the release was planned before a high-profile case erupted in Fargo on Wednesday involving a man who was arrested after a more than eight-hour standoff with police.

The incident ended with Leonard Ritter, 55, getting shot with a Taser and arrested after he jumped from his apartment balcony.

Ritter has a history of run-ins with police, including a standoff in 1994. In that case, Ritter’s attorney described Ritter as having been under the influence of chemicals.

Reitan said such cases highlight the importance of recognizing potential problems. He said friends and family can help loved ones avoid a crisis.

“We frequently will have a family member come in here, or a friend, and say, ‘Bob is really into the dope and it’s messing him up,’ ” he said.

“That allows us to give them the paperwork and say, ‘Present your case to the state’s attorney, and if they feel it has merit, it can go before a judge,’ ’’ Reitan said. If a judge feels the case has merit, an individual can be involuntarily placed in a program designed to assist them, he added.

“The longer the person suffers from mental health or chemical dependency issues, the greater the chance of behavior that puts them at risk of serious injury, or death,” he said.

Programs can help. Reitan said 97 percent of the people who successfully complete Cass County’s drug court do not reoffended.

On the other hand, “of those that just go to jail for their offense, 97 percent are coming back,” he said.

Of the six people who have graduated from Clay County’s drug court, none have reoffended so far, said Don Kautzmann, drug court coordinator.

Reitan said if a person needs immediate medical attention or poses a threat to themselves or others, someone should call 911 because police are allowed to take a person into custody for treatment and are trained in emergency procedures.

If there is not an immediate threat, authorities advise that a local treatment facility be contacted.

Area agencies include: