In an effort to and give police officers every possible resource to keep the community safe, the New Lenox Police Department hired a social worker.
New Lenox resident Ariel Ruttenberg started this week.
The hiring is not meant to replace police officers or defund, which is something New Lenox is not interested in doing, Mayor Tim Baldermann said, it’s about complimenting them with an extra tool.
“I talked about it where schools learned long ago that teachers can’t be all things and why schools had resource officers,” Baldermann said. “We want our police officers to keep our people safe. They have had to deal with people with mental health issues, or domestic violence situations. They may need some extra assistance in that area that they are not specifically trained for.”
Ruttenberg has worked in areas with at risk youth, and knows the town well, which is something Chief April DiSandro said will be beneficial.
DiSandro said she is excited to have a social worker join the staff and that Ruttenberg will be instrumental moving forward.
Police will still do the initial response, but if more work is needed after, that is where Ruttenberg will step in. Currently, the officers are responsible for follow up work.
“When we have domestic violence, mental health crises, juvenile situations, people that come in for the second chance program, she’ll be meeting with them to assess their needs,” DiSandro said.
She added that having a non-police officer present could make someone more open to talking.
DiSandro said the department and Baldermann began discussing the possibility of hiring a social worker three months ago.
“We’re really fortunate to be able to do this,” she said. “Not a lot of small departments have one. It’s two-fold. It helps the department tremendously and it frees up the officers time to keep helping people in the community.”
In light of everything that is going on in the country right now, both DiSandro and Baldermann felt that it was an appropriate time to pursue this.
And while not many small departments have social workers on staff, DiSandro hopes that maybe New Lenox’s hire can start a trend of hiring these types of people on staff.