City partnering with the county for the resource

The Eden Prairie City Council on Nov. 16 approved an agreement between the city and the Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department for the hiring of an on-site, full-time senior social worker at the Police Department.

The approval was made through the council’s consent agenda, so there was no discussion at this meeting among councilmembers about the proposed agreement prior to approval. In a prepared report to the council, Police Chief Matt Sackett described the senior social worker – or SSW – program.

“This program will bring a Hennepin County senior social worker to work on-site, full-time at the Eden Prairie Police Department. The ... department will pay Hennepin County $60,000 annually for the service and provide a work space at the Eden Prairie Police Department for the SSW. Hennepin County will be responsible for the remainder of the SSW’s pay, benefits, travel, training and work equipment. The agreement is for a 2-year period, January 1, 2022 to December 31, 2023.”

In his report, Sackett stated there has been a “steady increase in service calls with a mental health component for years. This program is intended to provide more timely access for citizens of Eden Prairie to Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department by having a senior social worker on-site at the Eden Prairie Police Department.”

Mayor Ron Case said Eden Prairie used to look outside the city for the social worker services that will now be provided in-house.

“Eden Prairie has never had a Senior Social Worker on staff. In the past we have had to rely on making referrals to the existing system of social workers within Hennepin County,” Case told the Sun Sailor.

Case also described the advantages for residents in hiring a social worker.

“Having a social worker on staff will benefit our residents by having a more immediate connection with social work services that many of our calls require. A social worker on staff will also have access to all of Hennepin County’s databases and systems. Law enforcement is long overdue in building and maintaining a closer partnership with social outreach services.”

The city was already planning on hiring a social worker when it partnered with the county to fill the position, Case noted. “There really are not any negatives with this initiative. In fact, we had originally budgeted to hire an internal social worker for 2022 and taking advantage of this grant program will fund nearly two-thirds of the cost of a full-time, Eden Prairie-based social worker.”

The social worker position, which will be supervised in-house within the Police Department’s Investigations Division, and will be involved in “partnerships with other police departments and the county social services, and innovative outreach initiatives that address the needs of our community,” Case said.

Other goals of the program, as outlined by Sackett, are to “increase community resource support, increase the use of non-urgent health care, improve the quality of life for those who have encounters with law enforcement, reduce arrest rates, reduce repeat calls and reduce costs attributed to incarceration and hospitalization resulting from a mental health crisis.”

Case acknowledged the broader national mood that serves as the backdrop for the creation of the new social worker position.

“It’s no secret that many people across America today have been calling for change and reform within law enforcement,” he said. “We are extremely fortunate here in Eden Prairie to live in a community that so strongly supports public safety. However, we are always looking for better and more productive ways to address the needs of our residents. So many of our Police Department calls are not crime-related, but nonetheless result in a police response. We are constantly working to improve the quality of life for everyone living in this community in the most efficient and effective ways possible.”

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