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McHenry County Sheriff's Office Reports Success With Social Workers Responding To Police Calls

WOODSTOCK, Ill. (CBS) -- Social workers responding to police calls – it is an idea that has sparked debate across the country, and now, an idea that is growing in McHenry County.

CBS 2's Tim McNicholas took us inside a county sheriff's office program that is about get a big-time expansion.

McHenry County Sheriff's police Sgt. Aimee Knop uses a badge and handcuffs, a bulletproof squad car, and a licensed social worker.

"It's different, but a very-welcomed different," Knop said. "It's another tool in our toolbox to help us help the community."

Police social worker Alana Bak helps McHenry County deputies on calls involving people in need of mental health services. Sometimes, that means contacting a victim or suspect after the police are gone to connect them with the right help.

Or sometimes, Bak joins deputies at the scene.

"We're able to say that I'm the counselor; I could help you through this; we can work through this together," Bak said, "and then to make those follow-up calls after that they're able to put that face to the name."

The county plans to hire six additional social workers between now and May, and they are extending the program to any other police department in the county who wants to use the social workers.

Bak is currently the county's only full-time police social worker, and now she is helping with the expansion along with Sgt. Knop.

McNicholas asked Knop how such a program can help at a time when police officers are facing so much scrutiny for the way they respond to high-pressure situations

"It helps law enforcement focus on the oath that we took – serving that community," Knop said. "Social workers help us with de-escalation, as well as guiding us how to communicate better, as well as sometimes families, victims, as well as suspects." Knop

County Sheriff Bill Prim added, "We're really good at what we do from a law enforcement perspective, but we're not social workers."

Prim said Bak played a key role just a few weeks ago in an intense SWAT call.

"To give some direction to the negotiators, as well as to make some suggestions for the individual where that person might benefit with a.surrender, let's say," Prim said. "And he did. He surrendered without incident; without harm."

Prim said the expansion will make an on-call social worker available 24/7.

"We're able to make that human connection with people," Bak said.

The expanded program will cost about $960,000 annually. Funding will come from county and the local police departments that choose to join.

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