'Second responders': Canton pilot program embeds social worker with police

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Canton — For the next year, the Canton Police Department will have an "embedded" social worker available for calls involving mental health emergencies, the township announced Friday, hailing the social worker as its "second responder."

Canton Township's board of trustees approved Thursday a contract with Hegira to provide its embedded social worker program. The contract is for about $83,000, paid in monthly installments.

"We're not perfect," said Chad Baugh, director of public safety. "We acknowledge that. But we're trying to progress the profession. We're resource brokers."

It was the township that put out a request for proposals last month. The idea had been an interest in department leadership for years, Baugh said.

The social worker will mostly serve in a follow-up role. The first priority is to "make it safe" at the scene, Baugh said.

The decision to embed a social worker doesn't stem from one bad incident, Baugh said, but a general concern about the "revolving door" on calls involving substance abuse, mental health issues, or the intersection of the two.

Anne Marie Graham-Hudak, Canton Township supervisor, called the contract "a proactive move to reduce the non-criminal calls for service on our police and other first responders," noting that 15% of the calls police field are not for criminal matters.

Baugh said this includes family disputes and hoarding.

"Social workers will be Canton's second responders, assist where needed and also provide guidance to resources for our residents," Graham-Hudak said in the statement.

"We're great on day one," Baugh said. "It's day two, three and down the road that need the follow-up."

A panel of police department and finance department officials interviewed three firms and chose Hegira "due in part to their demonstrated ability of having the best means and methods available to deliver the service being sought by the department," according to the board of trustees. 

In a statement, the Police Department said it "handles mental health emergencies as a medical issue, focusing on a peaceful resolution to the situation through de-escalation."

The social worker will be chosen by Hegira, which will ensure they are "trained in trauma-informed care, suicide prevention and crisis response."

The Canton police said in a statement: "One of the program's primary goals is to prevent future behavioral health crises." 

The job is not merely crisis intervention, but building an ongoing relationship with a person "to ensure they are linked with ongoing treatment" and available services, the department said.

Canton said the program will be in place by summer, but gave no start date.