Left to Right: County Administrator Peter Austin, PSW Program Director Aimee Knop, County Chairman Michael Buehler, County Coordinator Chalen Daigle, PSW Program Clinical Supervisor Alana Bak, and now-former Sheriff Bill Prim in front of The Community Foundation of McHenry County in June 2022. | Provided Photo

Officials say the police social worker program in McHenry County is making a difference and changing lives for the better following the program’s first year in operation.

The McHenry County Sheriff’s Office created a police social worker program in 2017 to alleviate their office’s responses to mental health-related calls for service.

The sheriff’s office expanded the program to be countywide in June 2022 when it partnered with 18 local police departments to have social workers respond alongside officers to certain calls involving mental health crises.

The countywide team consists of six police social workers and a clinical supervisor who reports to a sheriff’s office sergeant.

“The program has provided valuable assistance and training to our staff, which has benefited the residents we serve by being another valuable resource we can rely on while responding to those in crisis. This has resulted in improved services to those citizens in need, and a reduction in repeated responses,” Crystal Lake Police Chief James Black said.

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County officials say the most significant benefit has been a two-thirds decrease in recidivism rates of people who have had police social worker involvement.

“I’ve watched the police social workers interacting with Algonquin residents and referring them to services, and we’ve seen a decrease in our call volume to many residences after they have worked with a police social worker,” Algonquin Police Sgt. James Sowizrol said.

“The police social worker also provides valuable information to officers to use on calls to help mitigate challenges and reduce police response,” Sowizrol said.

Participating police departments also benefit from the training and collaboration that have come with the program, especially smaller departments that do not have the budgets of larger municipalities.

The program allows those agencies to focus less on mental health calls and more on minimizing crime and increasing community awareness and involvement, county officials said.

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“As a smaller agency with limited resources, this collaboration has benefited our community by allowing our department to give mental health calls the proper attention and level of service they deserve while freeing up police officers to continue public safety and community efforts,” Marengo Police Chief Nathan Hayes said.

Police social workers not only help respond to calls for service but also follow up with people after they have been connected with the services they recommended.

“We’ve seen firsthand in Fox River Grove how our residents are connected to long-term support with our police social worker’s assistance,” Police Chief Eric Waitrovich said.

Waitrovich said the follow-up by the police social worker with local residents is a “force multiplier” that minimizes and mitigates further police response.

“Residents are provided resources, phone numbers, things they can do and connections to aid in the crisis at hand – all of which result in lasting and effective solutions,” Waitrovich said.

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Funding for the program comes from participating police departments, the county board and the mental health board.

“The Police Social Work Program has made great strides in connecting residents to resources. We are pleased with the success thus far and are excited for the future of the program,” McHenry County Sheriff Robb Tadelman said.

Participating police departments include Algonquin, Bull Valley, Cary, Crystal Lake, Fox River Grove, Harvard, Johnsburg, Lakewood, Marengo, McCullom Lake, McHenry County College, the McHenry County Conservation District, Oakwood Hills, Prairie Grove, Richmond, Spring Grove, Wonder Lake and Woodstock.