The McHenry County Sheriff’s Office is partnering with local police departments to have social workers respond alongside officers to certain calls involving mental health crises.
Officials called it a “groundbreaking program,” which was developed in cooperation with the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office, the McHenry County Board, and the McHenry County Mental Health Board.
It will support police officers with full-time social workers to help bridge the gap between law enforcement and the county’s network of social service providers.
In 2017, the sheriff’s office created a police social worker program to alleviate their office’s responses to mental health-related calls for service.
Sheriff Bill Prim said he looks forward to this new cooperative program benefiting the entire county.
“Too often, law enforcement is the first contact for people in need of mental health services – people who need help,” Prim said.
“Our Police Social Work program has been an ongoing success story, and we want to see it continue. By bridging the gap between law enforcement, citizens, and mental health resources, we help keep residents healthy and out of the criminal justice system. I’m very eager to see this program implemented at police departments across McHenry County,” Prim said.
The program will consist of six full-time social workers who will support participating McHenry County police departments.
Social workers will connect residents to resources, such as direct social service providers, and conduct follow-ups with cases and clients.
At least one social worker will be available to assist officers, 24 hours a day, for a phone consultation or direct response when major mental health crises arise.
The social workers will be supervised by a clinical supervisor and program director, while the program will be managed by an advisory council.
“The program will help forge deep and dependable relationships among the community, care providers, police, and other agencies,” said McHenry County Coordinator Chalen Daigle.
“The agreement will be the latest in an ongoing effort to share services and foster closer partnerships among McHenry County’s governments,” Daigle said.
Through the collaboration of county law enforcement agencies, social service agencies, and organizations, the sheriff’s office anticipate bringing “a strong and consistent response to individuals of all demographics.”
A temporary incubator space will be used within The Community Foundation for McHenry County Philanthropy Center. The space will be used for program development, training and administrative office space.
“Bringing together local police departments and the Sheriff’s Office for such an important program is groundbreaking for McHenry County residents,” Daigle said.
“The Police Social Work program is a shining example of collaboration between government agencies in McHenry County. I’m excited to see the program grow and benefit our residents and law enforcement,” Daigle added.
All McHenry County police departments are offered the opportunity to participate in the program. Funding will come from participating police departments, the county board and the mental health board.
The program launches December 1 and it is anticipated to become fully functional by the second quarter of 2022, according to McHenry County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Aimee Knop.
“We’re seeing a lot of interest among local police agencies to be able to help facilitate positive outcomes when it comes to mental health-related police calls,” McHenry County Board Chairman Mike Buehler, R-Crystal Lake, said.
“This program will not only connect people needing mental health assistance with McHenry County’s deep network of social service agencies, but also will strengthen the bonds between the public and the men and women of law enforcement,” Buehler said.
During a Woodstock City Council meeting last week, Woodstock Mayor Mike Turner said he was supportive of the program but emphasized that the social workers should not be tasked with decision-making during dangerous calls.
“What I’m not interested in is anybody who thinks this is close to saying replacing cops with social workers. I know that’s not what this is, but I want to make clear that is unacceptable to me as mayor,” Turner said.