Six months after it started, the Moline Police Social Work Project is going to expand, thanks to a generous local resident.
Last summer, the Center for Youth and Family Solutions began a pilot project with the Moline Police Department, embedding two social workers with officers, to help them handle people with mental health problems.
And in just the final three months of last year, they handled more than 500 "contacts," that is calls that could benefit from participation by social workers. That inspired local community leader and philanthropist Heidi Huiskamp Collins to make a gift of 100,000 dollars so the program can expand.
Now Chief Darren Gault says three additional social workers will be available, for a total of five.
"We're open 24/7, 365 days a year, by a simple three digit phone number, 911, When you call we respond, and it doesn't matter what that question is and we don't bill for those services. So the police department has become that first responder for every ill in society. The problem is we have not been able to close the loop on the back end to help provide those services or get the community connected to the services that will ultimately solve the problem."
When the program started last fall, they first focused on working with juveniles, then added people who are homeless and adults.
"Integrating the social workers in the field probably won't necessarily take all of these calls off of the police department, but maybe solve the problem and provide a better connection for the community for services to help them with a variety of issues from homelessness to domestic violence to simple neighborhood disputes."
Chief Gault says police departments are under a lot of pressure these days, and this program in Moline seems to be working well so far.
"Then at times, police officers are having to put bandaids on issues and try to, maybe overcome something with very little resource that we have in law enforcement and hopefully with this partnership with social services we can not just look at a bandaid but a long-term solution."
He thinks it's too soon to know if this will work for other departments, but admits "we've learned a lot."
"I think the officers find it a great resource that maybe they were out there kind of swimming upstream on a topic we don't know much about. I think we've also opened social services' eyes a little bit to the volume and the challenges that we deal with in the community on a daily basis."