Embedded social workers help police in St. Paul, Coon Rapids and Blaine safely respond to mental health calls

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Sometimes, a mental health emergency will prompt you to call 911. Even those with special training aren’t always able to deal with the situation.

Sometimes things can go wrong – such as when Roseville police shot and killed an older man aged 52 in 2016, or Wright County authorities shooting and killing a young man from Otsego in June 2016.

The St. The St. They partnered with People Incorporated, a nonprofit mental health provider in the community, to embed social workers within their department to prevent unnecessary arrests and hospitalizations. This was done to get people the help they needed. This strategy has been so successful that many police departments throughout the state are now following St. Paul’s example and embedding social workers in their ranks.

Amanda Terwey is a mental health professional, People Incorporated social worker and a mental health professional. She began working in a split role with the Blaine and Coon Rapids police departments about a year ago. She is dressed in street clothes and assists officers on mental health calls. She also visits people who have contacted police while she was not on duty, to ensure they receive the support they need.


Terwey is often called by police officers, but she has noticed that Terwey’s different style of dressing makes it clear that Terwey is not an officer in law enforcement. This cuts down on tension.


Terwey stated that mental health is not a crime. Terwey stated that people often associate someone wearing a uniform (e.g. a police officer) with someone of authority. They are more likely to think they can make an arrest.

Amanda Terwey


Police officers are often unable to provide the necessary tools and resources to help individuals in crisis. They end up transporting people to hospitals or taking them to jail. Jill Wiedemann West, CEO of People Incorporated, stated that embedded social workers have a vast knowledge of mental health support systems and can help to change the direction of an interaction.


span style=”font weight: 400 The social worker brings a deeper understanding of the human condition.” Wiedemann West said that when it comes to mental illnesses, police have limited tools. An embedded social worker can sit down and try and understand the person, and then try to determine if they are in danger. Are they equipped with the right tools to manage their situation? How can we help ?'”
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Jill Wiedemann West


Terwey stated that her role is an excellent compliment to the work of police officers.


span style=”font weight: 400 I find mental health so common and it’s something that should be addressed. It is a great fit for me as a social worker to work alongside the police department. Although law enforcement and social workers have never worked as closely together in the past, it is possible to form a strong partnership span>

Responding to the needs and wants of the community

According to Sgt. Justin Tiffany, coordinator for the department’s Community Outreach and Stabilization Unit.


Tiffany stated that he and his colleagues looked into the community to see what was happening. They found that between 2006 and 2016, there had been a doubled in calls for mental health-related problems. His department colleagues and he decided to take action to address this rise. They looked at how other cities handled mental health calls and took a look at the responses.

Tiffany stated that they visited Madison and Albuquerque where social workers were embedded in police departments to handle mental health-related calls. He said that officers in these departments had lower rates of dangerous interactions and that callers reported that they received the services they needed from the social workers.

Sgt. Justin Tiffany


Tiffany stated that they wanted to replicate what they saw during those visits and suggested a partnership with People Incorporated. Wiedemann West was enthusiastic about the idea. She said, “It was an extremely brilliant plan.” “I believe St. Paul was ahead when they put this together.”


People Incorporated staff submitted grant proposals for the majority of the program. The remaining budget deficit was paid by federal grant funding that was secured by the police department. After years of working with just one and then three social workers, it was decided in 2021 that a licensed alcohol and drugs counselor would be added to the Community Outreach and Stabilization Unit in order to address the ongoing opioid crisis and increasing overdose rates in the area.


Tiffany explained that the idea of connecting people to resources for their mental, chemical, or both health is to divert them from the criminal justice system. “Since our first clinician was hired, she has performed almost 1,000 diagnostic assessments. This is the tool that opens the door to treatment.” Tiffany explained. These are the same keys that unlock the doors to treatment .”

One day in the Life


Terwey stated that mental health calls can take many forms. However, most occur when a friend or family member is concerned and reaches out. We go out and check the welfare of the person concerned, determine what is going on, and then come up with a plan .”
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Terwey is focused on the individual in crisis and helps to assess and de-escalate the situation. She said that having the full attention of a mental healthcare professional can help bring someone down from the edge. Often, plans can be made in under an hour to get them the help they require.


Watching Terwey work has given Coon Rapids officers and Blaine officers a better understanding about the wider range of situations that can best be handled through a mental health lens than a criminal justice lens.


Terwey stated that he has expanded the number of calls he takes. While some calls may not appear to indicate mental health at first glance, if you look closely, you will see that many times mental health is a part of the call. It’s why I find it helpful to be there when something is happening so that I can figure out the truth.


Terwey is usually the first to arrive on most calls.


The same thing happens in St. Paul. Tiffany stated, “I’m thankful to say that none of our clinicians have been involved in any physical altercation or fight with anyone.” He acknowledged that there are some people in crisis who can be “a little vulgar and aggressive”, but it’s been a great idea to have clinicians on calls with officers. They can identify behavior and not personal attacks span>


Wiedemann West stated that social workers can learn from working with traumatized people how to manage stressful situations in a non-confrontational manner. It’s about someone sitting down and asking questions. The goal is to build a relationship with the client.


Terwey stated that law enforcement officers felt often stuck in responding to crisis calls before social workers or licensed alcohol and drugs counselors were integrated into police departments.


span style=”font weight: 400 If this position didn’t exist, and it was police responding on their own initiative, they can only do so much for mental health. There are not many options other than helping someone to get to a hospital. The police are not mental health professionals. This is why it’s so important .”


Wiedemann West said that her partnership with St. Paul police is a good example of a progressive approach in policing that considers callers’ humanity. It fosters empathy and a deeper understanding for those with mental illness.


“I am proud of this work and so excited about the things that have been accomplished with it,” she stated. “Police departments who are embracing this work recognize that it is a better method of dealing with vulnerable people they come in contact with every day.

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