Police Department to add full-time social worker

Keeping a city’s residents, businesses, property and visitors safe takes a comprehensive public safety approach. For more than a year, the Cities of Richfield and Edina have joined forces to expand their public health, safety and wellbeing offerings by sharing an embedded social worker to provide additional assistance to those in need of help.

At the Richfield City Council’s November 23 meeting, the community’s elected officials voted to grow its embedded social worker program by replacing the part-time position with a full-time employee, specific to the Richfield Public Safety Department.    

“The addition of this new position to the Police Department is an essential component of focusing on prevention rather than crisis response,” explained Police Chief Jay Henthorne. “Getting individuals the help they need, such as mental health intervention, drug treatment, or diversion programs, allows us to operate more efficiently.”

The expansion of this program supports the department’s goal of having a comprehensive approach when responding to mental health crises, while enhancing collaboration between residents, the department and partner organizations.

“The majority of police work does not directly involve criminal incidents,” explained Lieutenant Brad Drayna. “Most of our work is responding to service-oriented calls. Adding a full-time social worker to our department will help us provide higher-quality services to our residents and will hopefully improve outcomes for those in crisis.”

Based on the department’s experience with a part-time social worker, the department believes the expanded social work offerings will provide residents in crisis with an additional resource for help, as an alternative to calling 911. This position will also provide ongoing support for residents in accessing county services to meet basic needs, mental health resources or chemical health resources.

The social worker can accompany officers on calls and assist in interventions for individuals with mental health, medical, and substance use needs who are involved in the criminal justice systems.

Communities with similar positions have seen their social workers provide consultation and support to the police department, case managers and 911 dispatchers, facilitating workgroups or meetings, developing tools and resources for various groups in the city.

“Our police officers need the appropriate tools and resources to keep our community safe,” stated At-Large Councilmember Mary Supple. “By adding a full-time embedded social worker our officers can provide additional proactive support services to our residents in crisis, creating an expanded model of public safety for our residents.”

The embedded social worker will be a full-time position dedicated to the Richfield Police Department and contracted through the Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department. The contract will begin January 1, 2022, and run through the end of 2023. 

In the year since the part-time position began, the embedded social worker program has been an effective resource to the department and the community.

“One example of how adding a social worker to the department has benefited the community involved a household that was seeking help for an unsheltered family member that was staying on their property,” remembered Henthorne. “The social worker was able to engage with the person, and help them access mental health services, and find placement in a sober housing facility. It took a lot of coordination, but our social worker was able to help smoothly transition this individual into a more stable situation.”

Where this is only one example, the department believes it is a microcosm of the great work done by its social worker over the past year and expects the expansion of the program will only benefit the Richfield community further.