Cuyahoga County executive considers funding for police social workers

Chris Ronayne said the City of Shaker Heights’ program should serve as a model for the entire county
Published: Mar. 20, 2023 at 10:48 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne hopes to provide a financial boost to integrate more social workers into public safety forces throughout the county.

After leaders in Shaker Heights touted their program, which includes a social worker who responds with police and fire crews, Ronayne suggested the county could provide funding to other agencies to get the ball rolling.

“Why I’m watching Shaker Heights so closely is I want to see that this partnership is working. It appears so, that it is working,” Ronayne told 19 News. “We can scale this through communities in Cuyahoga County and be a leader nationally.”

He said the county already has some funding stashed away that could be used for additional training and resources.

“It looks like it’s something that we in Cuyahoga County need to look to partner further with [Shaker Heights] on for some of our other municipalities,” Ronayne said.

Shaker Heights launched its pilot program in 2022.

Once police determine it’s safe, she’s available to step in and assist when mental health is part of the issue.

“Being that first responder and being there, seeing them when the trauma is so raw and new is different,” said social worker Annette Amistadi. “Knowing that I show up everyday and give 100% in hopes that I can make someone’s life better, I can’t put into words how that feels.”

Amistadi has been the city’s dedicated full-time social worker since November of 2022. She has set hours with the police and fire departments, and at the public library.

She responds in an unmarked vehicle and listens to emergency calls on her radio.

From the start of the full-time program last November, through the end of February of this year, Amistadi has had interactions with 145 individual residents, resulting in 221 follow-ups completed either in-person or by phone.

In a presentation to council, Amistadi said those follow-ups have led to the following results:

  • 70 - Linked to provider.
  • 54 - Unable to connect.
  • 40 - No services needed.
  • 20 - Services needed, but client refused.
  • 4 - Remain in jail.
  • 3 - Could not be located

“A mental health crisis is not a criminal justice issue. It’s a health issue and it should be treated that way,” said Shaker Heights Police Chief Wayne Hudson. “If we didn’t have this model here, our jails would be fuller, our law enforcement officers would be a lot busier responding to repeat calls that we shouldn’t be going to. Having a co-responder takes that off our plate and it’s better for the community.”

This spring, a social work intern will be added to the program; at least one city councilmember expressed interest in adding more full-time staff.

While it’s unclear if formal discussions with other communities have taken place, Ronanye said his team would engage in conversations with county partners as well as the county’s police and fire chiefs associations.

“If we get training out to our dispatchers, training out to our law enforcement officers and there’s a shared approach to solving problems, we can do some really great things here in Cuyahoga County as a pilot for the nation.”