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Top 10: County's SMART Center moves forward in 2018, slated for 2020 opening

Dakota County's proposed SMART (Safety and Mental Health Alternative Response Training) Center would be built in Inver Grove Heights. Courtesy of Dakota County

Editor's note: This story is part of a series looking back at some of the biggest stories of 2018. Find the rest of the series here: Top Ten 2018.

A roughly $13 million Dakota County police training center is on pace to move forward in 2019, after receiving state funding this year.

The Safety and Mental Health Alternative Response Training Center, known as the SMART Center, will give Dakota County Sheriff's Office and other regional law enforcement offices training in growing areas of emphasis for police — things like de-escalation, crisis intervention training and others. Slated for a 2020 opening, the county plans to acquire an Inver Grove Heights property to build the roughly 35,000-square-foot facility on in 2019, and construction later that year.

"It's going to help the county with its efforts to move into the 21st century in terms of our buildings," said Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie.

The new building will also house the county's first responders and drug task force and electronic crimes task force — a 3-year-old team for the county that extracts information from a variety of digital devices like hard drives or gaming systems. The county is also seeking nonprofit crisis intervention team to lease out space in the SMART Center. In 2017, the Minnesota Legislature mandated the state's police officers 48 hours of ongoing training must consist of 16 hours in crisis intervention, mental illness and cultural diversity every three years.

However, Leslie said that currently some of the crisis intervention training — which often uses actors and props to portray potential scenarios — is done in the back of large trailers. The new SMART Center will act as a hub for area officers to conduct their training instead, he said.

"This building will allow us to have a variety of modules," Leslie said. Dakota County contributed $6.6 million for the center, while the state contributed about $6.2 million in its 2018 session. Leslie said the county and he were "pleasantly surprised" the state granted the funding in the county's first attempt at getting funding.

Early on in the process there were concerns state funding could be splintered between the SMART Center and a similar, 41,000-square-foot Cottage Grove and Woodbury regional training center — the Health and Emergency Response Occupations Center. However both the SMART and HERO Centers received state funding in 2018, putting both on pace for future openings.