21 police departments within Hennepin County embed more social workers | KSTP.com

21 police departments within Hennepin County embed more social workers

Social workers in St. Paul. Photo: KSTP. Social workers in St. Paul.

Tommy Wiita
Updated: August 31, 2021 12:10 PM
Created: August 31, 2021 11:20 AM

Hennepin County officials on Tuesday announced an expansion of the county's embedded social worker program that will span 21 police departments. Seven more were added to the mix in Tuesday's update. 

District 6 Commissioner Chris LaTondresse joined Sheriff David Hutchinson and other local law enforcement partners announced the additions on Tuesday. 

According to a release, the embedded social worker program is a partnership between Hennepin County, the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office and local law enforcement. Established in 2019, the program is part of a larger effort to improve responses to emergency calls related to mental health or substance use, diverting residents from the criminal justice system or hospitalization to appropriate services. This approach allows for a tailored assessment and follow-up, from counseling to intervention, support and referral services. 

"The expansion of Hennepin County's embedded social worker program is all about the intersection of public safety and mental health," LaTondresse said. "It's about equipping local law enforcement with another tool to improve outcomes for residents in crisis and increase trust with the communities they serve. This program is the future of public safety."

The expansion comes as police departments nationwide are trying to find more effective ways to respond to calls involving people in crisis.

Departments have recognized that integrating social workers can support community members by providing connections with needed services, lessening the need for a police response, raising people's quality of life and improving law enforcement's response to the community. 

"In the past, police officers have had few options when called to mental health or substance use related calls: If a crime is committed, bring the person to jail;  if they are unable to care for themselves, send them to the hospital; or leave the scene after recommending the person seek help," Minnetonka Police Chief Scott Boerboom said. "Having a Hennepin County embedded social worker at the Minnetonka Police Department provides our officers with the additional resources provided through follow-up contact. Our social worker has become a valuable and trusted partner to work with those in crisis."

When a responding officer has concerns about a resident, they send a referral to the police department's social worker. The social worker reviews information and develops an intervention with the resident, then creates a plan to coordinate with existing supports, resources and referrals for ongoing needs. According to a release, social workers respond to mental health and substance use reports and offer support to help reduce use of 911 and coordinate service needs for residents. 

"This partnership offers new opportunities to address the underlying reasons people with mental health concerns may be calling for police to respond," said Jessica Angeles, a Hennepin County social worker who is embedded with Minnetonka police. "Connecting people to local supports can improve their mental health symptoms, expanding resources for them to lean on when a crisis does arise. This reduces the impact of psychiatric crisis on the law enforcement system, and improves people's quality of life."

Other program facts and outcomes include the following:

  • The partnership uses a 60/40 shared funding model, with cities programming 60% of funding for the embedded social worker and the county funding the remaining 40%. The social workers are employed by Hennepin County and embedded with local law enforcement. 
  • With the 2022 expansion to seven new departments, this program will employ 12 social workers, embedded across 21 police departments, 911 dispatch and group homes, serving 29 cities across the county. 
  • In 2020, social workers engaged with over 1,700 people across 12 cities. While a significant number of people were connected to mental health supports, many needed help across a wide range of human services like housing and economic support. 
  • Brooklyn Park assigned its top 25 emergency callers to the embedded social worker. This heavy caller group represented about 30% of all mental health related calls made in the city. After six months of engagement with the social worker, repeat calls dropped by 85%. 

Cities within Hennepin County that will be served by the embedded social worker program include: Brooklyn Park, Plymouth, Minnetonka, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Bloomington, Brooklyn Center, Crystal, New Hope, Robbinsdale, Edina, Richfield, and the University of Minnesota Police Department.

Every department will have one embedded social worker (excluding Bloomington, which has two), with Plymouth and Minnetonka using one between the two departments; St. Louis Park and Hopkins using one between the two departments; Crystal, New Hope and Robbinsdale using one between the three departments; and Edina and Richfield using one between both departments. 

Other cities anticipated to be included in the program include: Minnetrista, Shorewood, Excelsior, Tonka Bay, Greenwood, Deephaven, Wayzata, Medina, Corcoran, Orono, Spring Park, Mound, St. Bonifacius, Long Lake, Minnetonka Beach and Woodland. 

Many individuals moving through jails and correctional institutions suffer from untreated mental illness, according to county officials. The traditional criminal justice system is not sufficiently responsive to clients who have mental and chemical health needs, often relying on one-size-fits-all interventions, city officials state. 

In Hennepin County, the Criminal Justice Behavioral Health Initiative is working to expand system alignment and a tailored response to meet the needs of residents versus a one-size-fits-all approach to create better outcomes. 

Late last year, the Minneapolis City Council approved the Safety for All Plan budget, which would transfer funds from the police department towards violence prevention, mental health response and other programs. However, residents will get a chance to vote for a new department of public safety to replace the police department in November. Read more here.

Other areas outside Hennepin County — such as St. Paul and Washington County — have already installed their versions of embedding social workers among police. 

To see a full map of the cities mentioned in Hennepin County, click here

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