By Tom Hintgen
Otter Tail County Correspondent

Barry Fitzgibbons

Sheriff Fitzgibbons says that law enforcement across the nation continues to respond to calls of those in a mental health/chemical dependency crisis.

“To ensure the highest chance for a positive outcome, I have implemented different programs to address this issue here in Otter Tail County,” Fitzgibbons said.

One program he has implemented involves partnering with human services, what he refers to as an early intervention program. 

“This program is designed to get those suffering from mental health problems or chemical dependency issues in touch with services prior to being involved with the criminal justice system,” he said. “The idea behind the program is to get those in crisis in touch with human services who can assist in identifying services before a person ends up getting charged with a criminal offense.”

Sheriff deputies can refer a person to human services when contact is made with a person with mental health issues or a chemical dependency issue. 

“If we can get a person in touch with a service provider before they end up in jail, that is the goal,” Fitzgibbons said.

Another program that has been implemented is the jail social worker position. There is now a social worker that is dedicated to the detention center that focuses on those who are incarcerated. 

“The goal is to increase success while incarcerated as well as once released,” Fitzgibbons said. “The social worker can work with the inmate on mental health and chemical dependency services, employment, housing and many other services.”

Another program implemented by Fitzgibbons is mental health wellness for staff of the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office. In addition to the county-offered employee assistance program (EAP), Fitzgibbons hired a police and public safety psychologist to meet with staff as part of a mental health wellness program. 

“The program allows staff to meet with the psychologist in a confidential/anonymous setting,” he said. “The meetings are voluntary and are meant as a resource for staff.”

 In addition to addressing mental health, Sheriff Fitzgibbons said he would continue to ensure that all staff has the training and equipment to provide the best public safety services possible regardless of the situation.

He says that mental health and chemical dependency issues continue to require a significant amount of response from the Sheriff’s Office. 

“Many people are struggling today and so often, mental health and chemical dependency are contributing factors,” Fitzgibbons said. “There may be times when law enforcement must respond due to public safety concerns. Each situation is evaluated to determine appropriate response.”

 At times, law enforcement response is required due to public safety concerns, and there are times that they work with mobile mental health as needed. 

“To obtain the best possible outcome, our staff are trained in crisis intervention, conflict management and de-escalation,” Fitzgibbons said. “Officers are also required to receive training to better relate and understand people with Autism. We will continue to seek training and equipment to better respond to those in crisis.”

If re-elected, Fitzgibbons pledges to ensure that all staff has the training and resources to respond appropriately and efficiently when called. 

“I have made traffic safety a priority,” he said. “Too many people are seriously injured or killed on our roadways. Staff are trained in detecting those who are impaired while driving.”

Fitzgibbons said that in his 22 years with the Sheriff’s Office, he has had many different opportunities to expand his training and experience. Included is more than 15 years of SWAT experience. 

“My time on the SWAT team included being an operator, assistant team leader, team leader, assistant commander and commander. I also have more than 16 years on the public safety dive team as a public safety diver. While I am not a current active diver, I train regularly with the dive team.”

Fitzgibbons has supervised the patrol division to include K9, investigation division, court security, dispatch center, SWAT team, Dive Team, Posse unit, Water Patrol, and Drug task force. 

“I will use my training and experience to ensure that all staff of the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office have the training and resources to respond to whatever we are called to. I will continue to hold all staff to a high standard and follow the core values of our mission statement: Integrity, Respect, Fairness and Excellence.” 

• OTC Sheriff Candidate Joey Geiszler Profile

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