Social workers going on patrol with St. Paul police in pilot program

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Usually police officers team up with other officers when they go out on patrol, but for some St. Paul officers, a social worker will the one going along for the ride.

"I used to do home visits in my previous job of case management, but now I wear a bullet proof vest," said Amber Ruth, a licensed clinical social worker.

The department started a pilot program to embed a licensed clinical social worker in its new mental health unit. Part of the time, that social worker will accompany an officer responding to call where someone is experiencing a mental health crisis. The rest of the time, they'll go through police reports to find cases where additional mental health services may be needed.

“Really what we are trying to do is decrease the likelihood that that person or family will have to call police again if we can get them connected to right resource,” said Sgt. Jamie Sipes, St. Paul Police Department mental health coordinator.

To do that, the officers in the mental health unit wear a more casual or "soft" uniform on follow-up calls to help put the person in need more at ease. They also drive a minivan instead of a squad car, so they aren't telling the entire neighborhood they are back at a certain address.

"This is an opportunity for the community and the police to have that community conversation about mental health and wellness," said Sgt. Sipes.

For now, the embedded social worker program is just hitting the road, but there are no plans to hit the brakes anytime soon.

“I think it’s a natural fit,” said Ruth. “Police and social service have worked together for many years. Now, they are just combining the two.”

A social worker from People Incorporated started working with St. Paul police a couple of weeks ago. Wednesday, the City Council approved another social worker from Regions Hospital to start working with police later this month.