'Amazing to have that resource': Walworth Co. law enforcement partners with community crisis liaisons

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WALWORTH COUNTY, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Across the nation, 10% of 911 calls are related to mental health crises, and people with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter.

Since 2020, conversations about police conduct have been at the forefront, with many major cities moving to include a social worker response with police.

Officials in Walworth County, who have done just that in more rural communities in Southeast Wisconsin, have seen success in doing the same.

For over a year now in Walworth County, when police get behind the wheel to answer an emergency call, they're backed up by people who know how to get help to those who need it.

"Honestly every day is amazing to have that resource," said Delavan Police Chief Jim Hansen.

Chief Hansen's department was the first to become part of the Embedded Crisis Liaison program with the county's Department of Health and Human Services early last year, working with Denise Millet, their first community crisis liaison for Delavan.

He said just yesterday she was critical in a call regarding an overdose.

"It's nice to have her come in, she takes over, she gets all the resources that they need with the family and the kids, you know, coordinating with the school," said Chief Hansen.

Millet, now crisis intervention supervisor, said they provide a wide variety of services to help people facing mental health issues, substance abuse issues and more.

"Counseling, whether it's for an individual or a family, we have community support programs where you know, if someone needs a higher level of care," said Millet.

She said they also provide things like case management, medical help, financial help or even help with housing.

Millet said it pays off in situations like with one woman she's worked with, who used to have confrontations with police on the regular.

"They haven't had any contact with her, knock on wood, in several months, which for them we're talking a weekly occurrence previously," said Millet.

The success of the program has seen it expand early this year to the Walworth County Sheriff's Office and Lake Geneva Police Department.

Chief Hansen said he would like to see more law enforcement agencies do something similar.

"This program is something that should be offered in every jurisdiction, it needs to be statewide, it needs to be countrywide," said Chief Hansen.

Denise said she also trains police in de-escalation tactics and provides education on what services are available to them.

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