Hennepin County expands program embedding social workers in police departments

In Hennepin County, more social workers will be joining the ranks of local police departments.

After three years in action, the county's embedded social worker program is expanding next year. The seven new suburban partnerships include the Wayzata, Long Lake, Mound and Spring Park police departments. In all, the program will reach 21 police departments.

"When we started this program we didn’t know exactly how much demand there would be for it, but I think what we’ve found is that this is a service that meets a growing need," said Hennepin County Commissioner Chris Latondresse.

Latondresse said the goal of the program is to improve emergency response to mental health and substance abuse crises. He said that in 2020, embedded social workers engaged with more than 1,700 residents in more than a dozen communities.

"That's why the expansion of these social workers to serve more and more of our communities comes at such a critical time," he said.

"This is telling us that police, sheriff’s deputies…we can’t do it all. We need help," Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson added.

The basis of the program is to divert residents from the criminal justice system and hospitals.

"Officers sometimes aren’t sure what to do in these situations, and so that’s where I can jump in and figure out what steps the person needs to take to reduce their symptoms," said Jessica Angeles, a social worker embedded with Minnetonka Police.

The partnership uses a shared funding model. However, social workers are employed by the county.

Latondresse calls it the future of public safety.