The Superior Police Department is looking for someone with experience in crisis intervention and a working knowledge of community resources and how to access them to join the ranks.
The city’s Human Resources Committee approved creating a coordinated response specialist to work with officers to enhance responses to mental health, chemical dependency and homelessness-related calls for service. The committee also authorized hiring for the position.
“I am very much in support of this program,” Chief Nicholas Alexander said.
Alexander said he’s been advocating for a position like this going back to Mayor Bruce Hagen’s administration.
Last year, for the first time, the Superior City Council allocated funding for a social worker in the police department to work with officers to provide an additional layer of care for people going through a crisis. The position evolved to a coordinated response specialist to broaden the pool of candidates who would qualify for the job. Social workers in Wisconsin are required to have very specific credentials that could have eliminated people who qualify.
“In a perfect world, Health and Human Services would be able to pick up the slack, but in my experience in the past decade or so, that’s not happening,” Alexander said. “This is a proactive way for our department to better serve the members of our community. I’m very optimistic we’ll see some good outcomes from it.”
The coordinated response specialist will be responsible for building relationships with community resources to develop solutions for people experiencing homelessness, chemical dependency and mental health issues. The individual who fills the position will be a civilian employee who provides short-term case management to connect people to resources available in the community, assist in training law enforcement officers in crisis intervention and will respond to calls with sworn officers.
“I do think most of our officers have a general good awareness when that will be valuable,” Alexander said.
Councilor Jack Sweeney questioned what would happen if a crisis occurred when the coordinated response specialist wasn’t working.
“I don’t think we want to be disturbing this person at all hours of the night every day,” Alexander said, but he did say there would be an on-call component to the job. He said currently there are officers trained in crisis intervention that work every shift.
Superior Police Officer Bradley Jago said Thursdays and Fridays typically have the most mental health-related calls in Superior, followed by Mondays and Tuesdays. He said they typically happen between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. He said it makes sense to have a business hour schedule, at least to start, because of that data from the department’s calls for service.
In addition to working for the police department, the coordinated response specialist could assist the Superior Fire Department or Mayo Ambulance Service when requested.
Similar positions were broken down by the Eau Claire and Brookfield police departments and revealed about 40% of the time was spent on calls for service, 40% on follow-up calls and 20 percent was divided among administrative work and community outreach, Alexander said.
After a recent issue in downtown, Councilor Jenny Van Sickle said she found herself questioning whether there might be a better way to respond than having police respond to the call.
Van Sickle noted the amount of collaboration that went into creating 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 Olmstead County in Minnesota, which recently started a similar program, to develop the criteria for the job.
“I’m excited about this position,” Van Sickle said. “I feel this position meets the high standard we set for our police department … I hope this position will help good beget good.”