Collaborative Policing

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:

  • The partnership uses a 60/40 shared funding model with cities providing 60 percent of funding for the embedded social worker and the County funding the remaining 40 percent. The social workers are employed by Hennepin County, and embedded with local law enforcement. 
  • With the 2022 expansion to 7 new departments, this program will employ 12 social workers, embedded across 21 police departments, 911 dispatch, and group homes, serving 29 cities across Hennepin County.
  • In 2020 social workers engaged over 1,700 people across 12 cities. 
  • Brooklyn Park assigned its top 25 emergency callers to the embedded social worker. This heavy caller group represented about 30 percent of all mental health-related calls made in the city. After six months of engagement with the social worker, repeat calls dropped by 85 percent.

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.”