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De Pere Police Department to add social worker

By Lee Reinsch

DE PERE – The De Pere Police Department will hire its first social worker in the coming months.

It’s one of two new positions within the city, along with a video production specialist for the city’s IT department.

The city council voted recently to amend the 2021 city budget to free up $133,395 from unassigned reserves for the two new positions.

The police social worker position is new to the police department, and is intended to be a supplement to the work of regular police officers.

He or she will fill in the gaps that exist when officers are called to respond to incidents that require a different set of skills from those of traditional law enforcement.

Such incidents could include mental health emergencies, substance abuse issues, domestic disputes, investigations or victim interviews that require extra sensitivity, emergency psychiatric detentions, and any other traumatic events that require more mental-health savvy than experience in arresting criminals.

“We noticed needs in the community that were being unmet and decided to try to address them in a way that was better than we had been doing,” said De Pere Chief of Police Derek Beiderwieden.

The advocacy group MentalHealthPolicy.Org reported a survey of more than 2,000 police officers found 84 percent said they had seen an increase in the number of persons with mental illness during their careers.

Another 63 percent reported the time they spent dealing with persons with mental illness increased as well.

They said those calls take more time than calls regarding theft, traffic violations, or domestic disputes.

It’s common for a situation to be addressed by officers one day, only to be followed by repeat calls from the same address on subsequent days because the problem hasn’t been resolved.

Beiderwieden said the police social worker won’t be responding to calls, but will work to be a resource for officers who have assigned degrees of urgency to a situation and need help with the follow-up.

“The follow-up, we believe, is where the greatest difference can take place as we focus on the root issues in a person’s situation and connect services or resources to that person,” he said.

Police officers will respond to situations just like they’ve always done, then work with the social worker later.

Beiderwieden said he expects the position to mostly work during the day.

“There may be, on occasion, times when the PSW (police social worker) changes hours to meet a specific need or to have a meeting with a person because of the other person’s work schedule or other reason, but that would not be the norm as we currently envision it,” he said.

He described the role as that of a coordinator, collaborator, advocate and resource finder.

Beiderwieden didn’t have an estimate as to what percentage of the time calls to his department require mental health follow-up, but he said the social worker will be busy.

“Each day brings a new situation or a new crisis for someone,” he said.

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