Social workers, police see success of program response for non-criminal 911 calls

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MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa — For the last year, Marshalltown Youth and Shelter Services social workers have teamed up with police officers to handle non-criminal situations.

Within the first six months of the “MPACT Project”, social workers have responded to 200 calls, helping 300 people and MPACT was named program of the year by the Iowa City and County Management Association. 

“We have people across the state recognizing how innovative this is. And we’ve only been doing this for maybe eight months or so. So we’re just starting to gather data, and with the impact of reaching over 300 people directly in times of need that’s been the biggest critical piece of our success,” Director of Community Engagement at YSS Marshalltown, David Hicks said. 

How the MPACT Project works is that police officers initially respond to a 911 call. Once they deem a situation safe, they reach out to Youth and Shelter Services social workers who are available 24/7 for further assistance with the dispute.

According to senior therapist for YSS Marshalltown, Ryan Keller, 40% of the calls they’ve responded to have been mental health-related. YSS has been able to direct those individuals to therapy and clinical services for further help beyond the initial emergency call. 

“Our advocates are free to be able to follow up with those individuals as needed. And so that helps a lot because we want to ensure that they’re following through with recommendations, things along those lines,” Keller said. 

MPACT was awarded $150,000 last year by Marshalltown city council for January to December of this year. Hicks said with the project’s performance, they’ve been able to get an additional $80,000 to keep the project running through June of next year. This money is spent paying the salaries of social workers and necessary resources. 

Marshalltown Chief of Police, Michael Tupper, said his department is very supportive of the program. According to Tupper, MPACT has served as a new tool for officers to divert from the criminal justice system.

“So many of the calls that we send our police officers on really had nothing to do with law enforcement, they’re crisis issues or their social issues,” Chief Tupper said. “We’re now able to bring a new tool to that problem to that incident and help resolve the issue.”  

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