Superior wants a 21st century police department, but that’s on hold for the moment.
The Human Resources Committee put the brakes on a plan to create a civilian position in the Superior Police Department to deal with chronic issues police aren’t necessarily trained to handle.
The coordinated response specialist would be responsible for developing solutions to help people experiencing homelessness, chemical dependency and mental health issues by working with community organizations created to help. The specialist would provide short-term case management and work side-by-side with police to address persistent issues.
The position evolved from the idea of creating a social worker position in the police department starting this year. Social workers in Wisconsin require specific credentials that could limit the city’s ability to find the right individual for the job, prompting Officer Bradley Jago to change the title to include others qualified to handle crisis intervention and marshal community resources to help individuals in crisis.
In developing the position, Jago worked with the Douglas County Department of Health and Human Services; Betsy Byler, owner of Clear Harbor Counseling; social work professors at the University of Wisconsin-Superior; social workers embedded with the Duluth Police Department; Superior Police Officer Mike Kendall, a former social worker; and Olmsted County in Minnesota, which recently started a similar program.
“The collaboration is titanic; it’s truly an impressive effort,” Councilor Jenny Van Sickle said. She questioned how the position would be used.
Jago said it’s a ground-level position to address complex problems that would require a response from other agencies, public and private, and coordinate with those agencies as a person enters the system. He said it will offer a “person-centered approach” to guide individuals through the system to ensure the best care.
“As first responders, we’re obviously the first ones to get the call when someone’s in crisis,” Jago said. “By having this tool … someone we can bring with us that knows more about this realm than we do … we can be sure we’re offering the best service to community members.”
Councilor Jack Sweeney questioned why a position like this should be in the police department since not all the issues the coordinated response specialist would address don’t necessarily fall under the jurisdiction of the police department.
The police department is going to respond if there is a threat to the community or an individual intends to harm themselves, Mayor Jim Paine said. He said the coordinated response specialist would fill the gap between what police officers can do when those calls are prompted by chronic social issues.
“The solutions aren’t there right now; they’re very ad hoc, very mixed and we need someone to coordinate those different things, so we truly have all the best tools in our basket,” Jago said.
He said by being in the police department, the specialist would have access to the department’s radios for their protection and would be available to the fire department and ambulance service if needed when they respond to calls where the police aren’t dispatched.
Police officers responding to call after call can’t provide the level of care people with chronic problems like chemical dependency need, Patrol Capt. Paul Winterscheidt said. He said by creating the position bridges a gap between police officers and organizations that can help better serve the public.
The committee initially approved creating the position with a 2-1 vote, but committee members decided to postpone a decision until May 17 after Sweeney objected to approving the new job description. A decision on filling the position was also delayed until there is actually a position to fill.