Local sheriff’s offices expand help for mental health, substance abuse issues

Winnebago County jail staff get training on mental health and substance abuse issues while Fond du Lac County looks to hire a social worker to assist deputies
Published: Apr. 21, 2022 at 5:49 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 21, 2022 at 6:08 PM CDT
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OSHKOSH, Wis. (WBAY) - Law enforcement agencies in Winnebago and Fond du Lac counties are stepping up their mental health services. One department recently completed mental health training while the other is looking to add a social worker to its staff.

Some jail staff in Winnebago County went through specialized mental health training, one of several initiatives underway locally by law enforcement to tackle mental health and substance abuse issues.

Mental health and substance abuse issues continue to be a major tax on resources for law enforcement, especially in places like the county jail.

“We have 15 monitored cell areas that we utilize for various reasons, and since the beginning of 2022 we are bouncing between 10 and 15 of those cells just being used for mental health people alone,” Capt. Dave Mack of the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office said.

As it looks for ways to better serve its population, a group of Winnebago County deputies and civilian jail staff recently completed “mental health first aid” training for public safety. The program teaches observation -- how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness and substance abuse disorders.

“Watching their behavior, their behavioral changes,” Mack said. “Is there a difference. When you deal with them on a day-to-day basis you get to know people, and are they behaving differently, are they withdrawn? And it teaches to read those signs. Then, after you read those signs, what can do you? And in a lot of cases, it’s putting them in touch with those resources through our mental health provider.”

As part of an ongoing initiative in Fond du Lac County to deal with mental health and substance abuse issues, the sheriff’s office announced it was creating a new community response social worker position. Fond du Lac police are filling a similar position.

“We don’t have the formal training that a social worker would have and is more adept at handling,” Chief Deputy Kevin Galske, Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Office, said.

Not only with the social worker work side-by-side with law enforcement on some calls, but they’ll also review reports and work directly with those who need help the most.

“We’ll be able to provide an avenue, a faster avenue for services for families, for individuals to hopefully alleviate the criminal justice need to get involved,” said Galske.

Fond du Lac County hopes to have a social worker hired by the end of the summer.

Winnebago County Jail staff undergo comprehensive training. The Fond du Lac County sheriff looks to add a social worker.

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