Ramsey County offering social workers through 911 dispatch

During times of crisis, 911 operators do more than just dispatch police and fire – they play a unique role in emergency response by not only gathering information and giving instructions, but often being a calming voice at the other end of the line.

However, many times those calling for help need more than just a uniform at their front door.

Starting on May 28, social workers will now be available for those who call 911 in Ramsey County. The new "appropriate response initiative" is hoping to fill the gap between armed officers and those in need.

Last year, Ramsey County officials say they took nearly a million calls as the largest public safety communications center in the state. Only a little more than a third of those required traditional law enforcement or emergency medical response.

In many cases, non-emergency calls are mental health or substance-use related.

The new approach now includes four embedded social workers as part of the county's mental health crisis response – trained in de-escalation, and available to provide the most appropriate help to those in need.

The next phase of the appropriate response initiative will add a community response component, officials say, to focus on dealing with disputes and providing other resources.

In March, Brooklyn Park announced a pilot program to send social workers and paramedics, at times working in conjunction with police officers, to handle non-violent mental health 911 calls.

In recent years, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has expressed interest in increasing social workers who respond to non-violent calls throughout the city.

Beyond Minneapolis, in 2021, Hennepin County announced it would expand the county’s embedded social worker program into Wayzata, Long Lake, Mound and Spring Park police departments. In all, the program would reach 21 police departments.

The basis of the program would be to divert residents from the criminal justice system and hospitals, officials have said.