Commissioners vote to expand team of community outreach workers dedicated to public safety

Logos for Olmsted County, Olmsted County Sheriff's Office, and Rochester Police Department

At the Olmsted County Board of Commissioners meeting on July 7, 2020, the board voted to expand a program which teams up community outreach workers with local law enforcement. A pilot of this program has been in place since July 2017 with one community outreach worker embedded with both the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office and the Rochester Police Department.

This will build upon the current community outreach/law enforcement liaison model by increasing the number of community outreach workers from one to four. With mental health crisis calls on the rise in Olmsted County, expanding this program will allow for greater coverage and service to the community.

“We started the pilot because we were finding that law enforcement was having to de-escalate situations without having awareness of referral sources or services that could be provided to individuals in crisis. That, coupled with a lack of mental health services in the community, resulted in adults and kids in detention centers and stuck in emergency departments not receiving treatment,” said Olmsted County Deputy Administrator of Health, Housing, and Human Services (HHH) Paul Fleissner. “In addition to protecting public safety, our officers were trying to be social workers and that’s just not what they are trained to do. Partnering the two entities just made sense.”

Chief Jim Franklin of the Rochester Police Department sees the pilot as highly successful and looks forward to the expansion of the role into a larger coordinated community outreach team.

“We’ve seen diversions away from emergency departments, a quicker identification of persons needing additional supports or services, and better collaboration with hospitals and community partners. The expansion of this program supports a shift, that we are fully supportive of, in the way we respond in the future,” said Chief Franklin.

Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson sees the embedded community outreach team as a welcome addition to local law enforcement.

“The truest path of growing and learning is knowing when you need more help. Then, to seek the support you need,” noted Sheriff Torgerson. “Our relationships with the communities we serve are critical to our overall mission of public safety. Law enforcement in Olmsted County and the City of Rochester eagerly await the support this team will provide, and I expect it will quickly become the most valuable tool in the toolbox for every cop.”

As part of the expansion, the new community outreach workers may vary in skillset; some may be social workers, others may be probation officers, but all will be seasoned professionals. Existing Olmsted County employees will fill the new positions, so the expansion will not require additional staff. 

The team will report up through a program manager within Community Corrections who will oversee the following groups: 

  • Olmsted County Pretrial Services team
  • Community Outreach Workers on the Law Enforcement Liaison Team
  • Children of Incarcerated Parents

The overarching name of this new area is the Diversity, Equity, and Community Outreach Team. The entire group will report up through Community Corrections as part of Olmsted County’s HHH division. The program manager overseeing the team will report to Olmsted County Director of Community Corrections Travis Gransee.

“We see the creation of this new team as an innovative way to bridge law enforcement, corrections, and social services to help improve our residents’ quality of life,” said Gransee. “Having this team within Community Corrections would bring a consistent model of service into an organizational framework that allows collaboration across various criminal justice and social service system professions.”

In order to build a vibrant, inclusive, and opportunity-rich environment for everyone in Olmsted County, this new team will be tasked with developing diversity and equity strategies to help eliminate disparities for these publicly delivered community services. This is in line with “One Olmsted” – Olmsted County’s diversity and inclusion initiative – which aims to ensure an inclusive workforce environment to retain staff and support staff development through awareness and education opportunities; ensure Olmsted County services to residents are equitable, reduce barriers to use, and promote inclusiveness; and increase the number of staff members who represent the community at large in diverse ways.