ST. PAUL (AP) — The St. Paul Police Department will expand its new unit dedicated to handling calls for mental health crises.

The St. Paul City Council has approved a budget to nearly double the number of officers working within the mental health unit that started this spring. The unit will now have seven officers and two social workers to respond to the police department's growing number of mental health-related calls.

The team has handled about 1,500 cases so far this year by performing welfare checks, connecting residents with mental health services and reducing escalations.

The city's police formed the unit in March after seeing a sharp rise in calls involving mental health issues, from about 4,100 calls in 2004 to roughly 8,700 calls in 2016.