The Superior Police Department’s plan to hire a civilian to connect individuals in crisis with community resources is starting to come together.
Officer Bradley Jago took on the task of developing the police department’s new civilian position after the city council approved funding for the department to hire a social worker last fall.
“Even though there’s quite a few departments across the country that have these positions, they all do it differently,” Jago told the city's public safety committee Wednesday, Feb. 17. “There doesn’t seem to be one model for how it’s done across the country. Apparently, it’s done by whatever works best in your community.”
Jago said he’s been working with the Douglas County Department of Health and Human Services, University of Wisconsin-Superior social work program, Clear Harbor Counseling, the Minnesota Department of Corrections equity and community outreach coordinator and other community stakeholders to explore the role the new position will fill.
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In defining the position, Jago said he will recommend that the job title doesn’t reflect the term “social worker” because in Wisconsin that requires individuals to have a specific certification that could limit the pool of candidates who qualify for the job. He said while social workers could still be the best qualified candidates, changing the title to something like community outreach specialist would open it up to psychologists, people with a background in criminal justice and those with other relevant experience.
“We want to make sure we're selecting the best candidate,” Jago said. “We really want to focus on their experience, not just the education they have.”
Whoever is hired for the position would be responsible for developing and maintaining relationships with local service providers and would reach out to people in crisis because of mental health, substance abuse issues and even homelessness, Jago said.
“We really want them to be able to provide quick and easy referrals to community members that are in need of those services,” Jago said. “And the biggest thing that law enforcement can’t really accomplish right now because of our workload is case management. We really don’t want people getting lost in the system after they’ve been contacted by law enforcement because of mental health or chemical dependency.”
He said in some cases, the first solution might not be the best one, and the community outreach specialist would be the person to work with the individual until the best solution is found.
Councilor Tylor Elm questioned whether the position would be an office position or whether it would include field work.
“There’s a lot of flexibility for this position,” Jago said. On initial contact, he said the outreach specialist would arrive with an officer but suggested an unmarked vehicle with access to police radios for follow-up calls that the individual who is hired could make independently.
Councilor Esther Dalbec questioned whether the individual would be on call 24 hours a day.
“There’s going to be times where they’re not working,” Jago said. “Police officers will still have to offer some level of service at times. This position will not be able to respond to every single mental health service call.”
Councilor Craig Sutherland said he was sure police statistics would guide scheduling decisions, and the city could consider funding more than one outreach specialist if that proved beneficial.
“This is a good start,” Sutherland said.
Once the city's human resources committee approves the job description, Mayor Jim Paine said it will go to the city council for final approval.
Jago would like to see the hiring panel consist of officers and people with backgrounds in counseling and social work. The goal is to have the best candidate on board by late June or early July, he said.