DeKALB – A year after George Floyd was murdered by police, spurring local calls for more social workers in law enforcement, the DeKalb Police Department will add a second social worker to its ranks through a partnership with the Northwestern Medicine Ben Gordon Center.
DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas said earlier this week the City went forward with the social worker program about a year ago with the two agencies after what he called a successful pilot run. Over nine months, he said 1,000 different individuals have been referred to the social worker who works with the police department.
“And there was a jump in this last quarter, in the first quarter of 2021,” Nicklas said. “The longer we’re at it, I think the better we’re doing.”
The City Council voted, 7-0, to approve another year of the agreement during the Monday council meeting. Sixth Ward Alderman Mike Verbic was absent from the meeting.
According to city documents, the agreement will cost the City of DeKalb no more than $67,092, which will cover one social worker’s salary. The second social worker’s salary will be covered by DeKalb County Mental Health Board grants.
The contract goes into effect Thursday and ends August 31, 2022, “unless it is renewed by mutual written agreement of the parties, or is earlier terminated by either party by giving the other party not less than 30 days written notice of termination,” per city documents.
First Ward Alderwoman Carolyn Morris said the results the program has yielded in the previous year has been “phenomenal.” She said she’s excited about the good community response from the program so far and to continue to grow the program.
“We’re looking at the program that has received 433 referrals from the police department alone,” Morris said. “So looking at adding a second one could mean ... double the results, and that’s just fantastic.”
Nicklas said before the vote that city staff recommended approval for the new agreement, which included two full-time social workers instead of just the one as the previous agreement outlined, to the council.
“One of the things that I’d like to see us do [in a future meeting] is a little cost shifting, being able to bring in some federal dollars to fill some other holes in a police department and maybe free up some money to hire that third person, so we can have three shifts [covered],” Nicklas said.
DeKalb Police Chief David Byrd said the current amount referrals one social worker is following up on is “a robust number.” However, he said the police department ideally would like to respond to social work referrals within 48 hours from when the call initially came in.
“The longer we wait to respond, the ability to help that party or that family lessens,” Byrd said. “Because at that point, their response might be to us, ‘Well, yeah, I needed you two days ago, but now at the 72nd hour, 96th hour, yeah, I don’t really want to assistance any longer,’ or they might’ve changed their whole posture.”
Byrd said he believes that also illustrates the need for more social workers to be brought into the contract, especially to eventually bring in a third social worker to cover each police shift.
“Because now you’re seeing that one-on-one contact actually at the time of the actual event,” Byrd said.
Ultimately, Byrd said he’s excited to see DeKalb is “setting trends” when it comes to “the future of policing.”
“And I will tell you, for an officer who worked three decades, I wish we would have had this kind of help in the the late eighties and early nineties, when I started my career,” Byrd said. “Law enforcement officers are also always called – or at least in the past, they were – to handle situations they probably weren’t equipped to handle and situations exactly like this. Believe it or not, we got through it, but only by the grace of God did that happen. We were lucky in a lot of cases, but now we have experts who can assist us going forward. So this is a very important cost for the police department.”