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Woodbury police add social worker, therapy dog to help with crisis calls

The Woodbury Community Support Team mission is to provide focused efforts on situations involving mental illness, substance abuse, and homelessness.

There's a growing movement among police departments to shift certain 911 calls, like mental health emergencies, away from officers.

It instead calls for interventions with social workers to help find solutions.

The Woodbury Police Department has nearly 70 officers, including Detective Adam Sack. He's worked there 12 years and is now a member of the Community Support Team.

It launched in 2019 and helps people long-term who are experiencing mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness.

"And really see if we can engage with them so we can put resources in place to help them and hopefully have better outcomes the next time they have contact with the police," said Det. Sack.

To find truly successful solutions though, Det. Sack knew something was missing – that for him was Angie Shackleton. 

"The gold standard is to have that embedded social worker," said Det. Sack. "That really is the game changer because we’re able to bring, not only police and safety that comes with that, but the resources and expertise of a mental health professional."

A licensed, clinical social worker, Shackleton joined the team just last fall. She used to work as a Child Protection Social Worker and also as a Washington County Crisis Response Unit responder.

"The officers have been trained to work with people in crisis," said Shackleton. "They're doing a good job, I'm just coming in and I'm able to add like a bonus."

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Together they have helped 263 people in 2021 – the program's first full year of service, along with having conducted 147 follow-up visits and given a dozen presentations to police departments across the state.

But it wasn't until Christmas that the team truly felt complete.

"I love working with Otis," said Shackleton. "It instantly calms you down and it’s really nice having him here."

The English Golden Retriever is the department's newest employee and is training to be a therapy dog. The department says he will have three main goals:

  1. Internal Support for Police, Fire, and EMS: With the stressful nature of the profession, Otis will be available to reduce the effects of trauma and stress in the workplace
  2. Call or incident based response: The response of a certified therapy dog has been proven to ease the effects of traumatic events and provide some comforts in times of need.
  3. Community outreach and engagement: Each year, public safety makes it a priority to participate in several community events and Otis will be helping build relationships with our community.

This program is similar to ones in place in Duluth and St. Paul. The team also trained with the Los Angeles Police Department in 2020 to learn how to implement the program in Woodbury.

The team says it has helped them to also redefine what success means and say they have had that already with people in the community who are experiencing a crisis.

"It’s not always going to be less 911 calls, it’s not going to less interaction with someone," said Shackleton. "It’s about that actual interaction that happens that day and if it’s a good interaction, that’s a success."

The department says this program is only made possible with the support of the community via the Woodbury Police K9 Fund non-profit.

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