August 31, 2021 — An expansion of embedded social workers into law enforcement was announced in Hennepin County. The addition of seven suburban police departments to the partnership in early 2022 gives the county 21 participating departments since 2019.
The program is part of a larger effort to improve responses to emergency calls related to mental health or substance use, and diverting residents from the criminal justice system or hospitalization to appropriate services. The approach includes assessment and follow-up, counseling, intervention, support, and referral services.
When a responding law enforcement officer has concerns, a referral is sent to the police department’s social worker, who reviews information; develops an intervention with the resident; and creates a plan to coordinate with existing supports, resources, and referrals for ongoing needs. Social workers respond to mental health and substance use reports, 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.”
“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,” said Minnetonka Police Chief Scott Boerboom at an August 31 news conference. “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.”
Program facts and outcomes:
Cities served by the embedded social worker program since 2019: Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Park, Plymouth, Minnetonka, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Bloomington, Brooklyn Center, Crystal, New Hope, Robbinsdale, Edina, Richfield, U of MN police department. Expected 2022 expansion will include Minnetrista, Shorewood, Excelsior, Tonka Bay, Greenwood, Deephaven, Wayzata, Medina, Corcoran, Orono, Spring Park, Mound, St. Bonifacius, Long Lake, Minnetonka Beach, Woodland.
As a news release about the announcement stated: “Many residents cycling through jails and correctional institutions suffer from untreated mental illness. 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. The behavioral health system also is not designed to serve residents involved in the criminal justice process. As a result, expensive crisis venues have become the default resource for behavioral health care.”