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On The Front Line: Crisis Intervention in Law Enforcement

May 16, 2018 11:06 PM

(ABC 6 News) - Law enforcement has seen a significant increase in the number of mental health calls over the last few years, but a new position is addressing that issue.

Last year, the Olmsted County Sheriff's Office and Rochester Police Department ran a six-month pilot program where a social worker joined officers in the field during crisis situations.

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"We've really had success in embedding social workers in other areas like probation and other areas that have been to collaborate a little better," social worker Megan Schueller said. 

Schueller is a long-time social worker at the Olmsted County Detention Center and has been a coordinator with the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) since 2007.

"Looking at this, we also knew there was a need with the increase in crisis calls and mental health issues," Schueller said. 
She said there was around a 25 to 30 percent increase in crisis calls between 2016 and 2017. Because of that uptick, local law enforcement ran a six-month trial program with Schueller in a liaison position for psych and mental health calls. The Olmsted County Board made the embedded role permanent in March.

"We decided to run a test pilot part-time, and we started it in July with one RPD shift and one Olmsted County Sheriff's Office shift," Schueller said. "I would be available for phone consults so they could run calls by me, then I also would ride along sort of intermittently and try to capture some of the mental health calls; if there was an emergency and we could look at possible resources for somebody that could potentially access information in an emergency to help them, or maybe find other people that were providers or resources that we could pull in."

Schueller said her new position was created to keep people in a mental health crisis out of jail or divert them from the emergency room if it's not the best option. 

"She speaks a language we don't speak," CIT Coordinator and Rochester Police Patrol Lieutenant Frank Ohm said. 

Ohm said this new role is pretty important, considering law enforcement agencies didn't always handle those cases the way they do now.

"Before we had anything like a CIT program, if police an officer or a sheriff's deputy showed up at your house, there was a reasonable assumption that they were looking to take someone to jail because that's all that law enforcement knew," Ohm said.

Statistics from the pilot shows that when Schueller was involved, 70 percent of psych calls with an onsite response didn't need the emergency room and were able to remain at home with a plan. Before the pilot, more than 70 percent of those calls were taken to the ER.

"Now we can, with an honest voice, tell the person that we're trying to help, we just want to help, we don't want to take you anywhere against your will if we don't have to, and here's some proof of that," Ohm said.  

"When these people haven't committed any crimes and they're in need of services and haven't committed a crime, it left us in limbo with what to do," CIT Coordinator and Olmsted County Patrol Sergeant Jim Schueller said.

Sergeant Schueller has noticed an improvement since they made the position a permanent fixture.

"She has access to databases we as law enforcement don't,” Sergeant Schueller said. "So she can intervene at that level without people having to retell their whole story from the beginning, which is difficult for people in crisis."

Schueller said there's a greater need for even more social workers in law enforcement.

"It could be used so much more, we're just scratching the surface with patrol," Megan Schueller said. "I don't see that the mental health piece is going to get any smaller, we've seen it growing and growing over the years and I think it's going to continue to grow."

"She's absolutely the driving force behind the program and has done a ton of good in this community and there are plenty of people in Olmsted County and the city of Rochester who are alive because of the work that Megan has done,” Ohm said. “And I’m super appreciative to still be able to have that and work with that.”

Due to the frequency of calls and the chance that they could come in at any time of day, those in the CIT program would like to expand Schueller's embedded position to include multiple social workers.

Credits

Elise Romas

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