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Hennepin County will expand its social worker program to 21 police departments

The embedded social worker program aims to improve departments' responses to mental health and substance abuse calls.

Hennepin County will expand its partnership with local police departments through a program that allows social workers to help respond to certain calls.

Hennepin County Commissioner Chris LaTondresse and Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson announced the expansion of the embedded social worker program Tuesday.

Through the program, officers responding to a call can refer a resident to the department’s social worker, who will review the situation and coordinate a response, including counseling, intervention and referrals.

The program aims to improve departments’ responses to mental health and substance abuse calls and avoid sending those residents to the prison or hospital systems.

Seven new law enforcement departments will join the program in early 2022, making for a total of 21 departments serving 29 cities. The program will employ a total of 12 embedded social workers.

“The expansion of Hennepin County’s embedded social worker program is all about the intersection of public safety and mental health,” LaTondresse said in a statement.

“It’s about equipping local law enforcement with another tool to improve outcomes for residents in crisis and increase trust with the communities they serve. This program is the future of public safety.”

Police jurisdictions currently participating in the program are Brooklyn Park, Plymouth/Minnetonka, St. Louis Park/Hopkins, Bloomington, Brooklyn Center, Crystal/New Hope/Robbinsdale, Edina/Richfield and the University of Minnesota.

New cities that will be served by the program next year are Minnetrista, Shorewood, Excelsior, Tonka Bay, Greenwood, Deephaven, Wayzata, Medina, Corcoran, Orono, Spring Park, Mound, St. Bonifacius, Long Lake, Minnetonka Beach and Woodland. 

Last year, the program's social workers engaged with more than 1,700 residents in participating cities. 

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Participating cities account for 60% of the program's funding, while Hennepin County covers the remaining 40%. 

​​“This partnership offers new opportunities to address the underlying reasons people with mental health concerns may be calling for police to respond,” said Jessica Angeles, a Hennepin County social worker with Minnetonka police, in a statement.

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

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