DeKalb Police Department’s social worker program helps nearly 300 people

Commander+Jason+Leverton+%28left%29+and+social+worker+Abbie+Ascencio+%28right%29+at+the+DeKalb+Police+Department+April+8.+

Patrick Murphy | Northern Star

Commander Jason Leverton (left) and social worker Abbie Ascencio (right) at the DeKalb Police Department April 8.

Yari Tapia, Opinion Editor

DeKALB – The DeKalb Police Department’s social worker liaison program helped nearly 300 people in the second half of 2020. Here’s how the program is operating now:

The social worker liaison program is a partnership between the DeKalb Police Department and Northwestern Medicine, Commander Jason Leverton said. 

“Officers are connecting individuals and families with behavioral and mental health concerns to additional services,” according to the City of DeKalb’s Facebook page.

“The mutual goal of the department and the social work program is to help address the root of the program that is triggering those 911 calls,” said Abbie Ascencio, police social worker.

How it started

The DeKalb Police Department hired a social worker from Northwestern Medicine, who was contracted after the community held meetings for police reform, according to a July 14 Northern Star article.

The police department applied for the federal police mental health and collaboration grant after receiving crisis calls related to behavioral and mental health issues, Leverton said.

“We decided to have an embedded social worker work within the police department to help follow up on cases where really any of those things were a factor and that we might be able to provide further assistance for that person,” Leverton said.

How it works

Leverton said the police department has seen the program’s potential for reducing future service calls if community members are properly assisted. 

“What the officers do is directly refer those cases or those people to Abbie and then she’s able to connect them to the appropriate services,” Leverton said.

Ascencio said follow up cases are when people can be given extra support after their interaction with the police officer.

“When the social workers can respond, along the officers, we’re able to provide that on-the-spot service,” Ascencio said.

Services provided 

Ascencio said she provides services such as case management, transportation, food delivery, housing information, coordinating with agencies and advocating for financial support. 

Ascencio has also stabilized people during a crisis at on-scene cases. She provides people resources and creates a safety plan for them after a crisis as well. 

Ascencio said the program also offers the living room that’s free of charge to anyone who’s 18 and older. People can go in on a walk-in basis during office hours, and get a peer support counselor that they can talk to on the spot.

How it’s going

Leverton said the program has provided more permanent housing to homeless people and drug counseling for people who need it.

Leverton said the program has reduced the number of calls from repeated callers. He anticipates the caseload will increase, and another social worker can be contracted in the future. Having another social worker will provide faster assistance to community members in need.

Ascencio said the program is in high demand. She has received over 500 cases to follow up with, and she has provided over 1,500 types of services.

“Hopefully, we’d have more social workers available to help respond may be on call or respond during the after hours,” Ascencio said. “So we’re still building on that it just having a social worker be more available during those hours would be ideal for our community.”

Reaching out

Ascencio said she also promotes the program’s services in Spanish, which are free of charge.

“I do want to promote that individuals are welcome to reach out at any time for any reason, it’s not just a one-time follow up,” Ascencio said.

The 24/7 crisis hotline number is 866-242-0111.