Social worker program in Hennepin County grows to more police departments

A partnership between the county and police departments which started in 2019 will expand to include seven new agencies next year.

Social worker Amber Ruth and St. Paul police officer Lori Goulet.
Social worker Amber Ruth and St. Paul police officer Lori Goulet arrive at the site of a welfare check in St. Paul in 2018. More suburban cities in Hennepin County are signing onto a program that pairs social workers with police departments to better respond to mental health.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2018

More suburban cities in Hennepin County are signing onto a program that pairs social workers with police departments to better respond to mental health or substance abuse emergency calls. 

The partnership with Hennepin County will include a dozen social workers serving 29 cities. Police concerned about a resident’s call can refer them to a social worker, who can refer the resident to support and resources, including mental health support or housing. 

“The good news is that for the past few years, quietly and with very little fanfare, we’ve seen the start of something amazing,” county commissioner Chris LaTondresse said. “Hennepin County social workers, local police departments, working together to better serve residents, especially those who are experiencing a mental health crisis.” 

In Brooklyn Park, a social worker was assigned to help respond to 25 residents who accounted for about a third of all mental health emergency calls in the city. After just six months, LaTondresse said, their emergency calls dropped by 85 percent. 

Last year, the social workers interacted with over 1,700 people through the program. 

“It’s better for these residents in crisis. It’s better for public safety, and it’s better for our taxpayers,” LaTondresse said. 

Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson said the program represents one way that law enforcement in this country is evolving.

“Police, deputies, we can’t do it all,” Hutchinson said. “We need help, and we’re asking for help.” 

Jessica Angeles, a social worker embedded with the Minnetonka Police said they’re better able to address the underlying conditions that cause people to call the police. 

“Connecting people to local supports can improve their mental health symptoms, expanding resources for them to lean on when a crisis does arise,” she said in a statement. 

The program launched in 2019, and will include an additional seven police departments next year. 

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