NewsLocal News


Milwaukee County hopes to hire overnight social workers to respond to mental health crises

Given that Milwaukee police respond to about 8,000 mental health calls each year, the city invested in crisis assessment response teams called CART about a decade ago.
mental health response
Posted at 3:39 PM, Nov 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-18 19:24:21-05

MILWAUKEE — For more than a year, an effort to have teams of Milwaukee police and counselors respond to mental health crises around the clock has been stalled. Now, it boils down to a lack of social workers willing to do the potential life-saving work overnight.

Both law enforcement and social workers help people, but their professions rarely cross paths.

That isn't the case for clinician Patrice Moore and her police partner.

"My thing that I pay attention to is the effect, the presentation of the person," Moore said.

Moore knows the benefits of coming together as a team to respond to people facing a personal crisis.

"I'm looking at the whole situation. I know officers, they don't pay attention to that. Not that it's a bad thing, they don't have the skill set to do so and so, if you can pay attention to the whole scene, you may approach the person differently," Moore said.

Given that Milwaukee police respond to about 8,000 mental health calls each year, the city invested in crisis assessment response teams called CART about a decade ago. The partnership's goal is to decrease the number of involuntary detentions or arrests by having social workers there to help stabilize crises on the scene.

A year and a half ago, Milwaukee doubled down on the program, going from three CART teams to six in order to extend the services after midnight.

"A lot of things hit the fan at night," Moore said.

But the county's Behavioral Health Division says it hasn't been able to hire new clinicians to work the third shift.

"I think it would be important," Moore said when asked about overnight CART teams. "One of the things with professionals is that that's not something that people desire to do, so it's not the job itself. It's what professionals don't want...To work overnight."

Milwaukee Police Department Assistant Chief Nicole Waldner says most calls that CART teams would respond to come when counselors are no longer on the clock.

"The majority of CART calls start around 11 p.m.," Waldner shared. "Alcohol (is) a factor, right? Bar time means something, but that's where most of our calls are."

The Milwaukee Police Department kept up with its side of the commitment by specially training more officers to join CART teams, but Waldner says they don't blame the county for not being able to do the same.

"Overnight has been challenging," Waldner said. "Not for police officers, because obviously, it's the expectation, right? But it's very hard to find a master-level clinician who's going to work overnight for probably less pay than they would somewhere else where they could be day shift, weekends off."

The county's Behavioral Health Division says it is upping the ante in the hopes recruiting will turn a corner by offering a $7,500 sign-on bonus, and a 5% bump in hourly pay.

"I would like the goal to be to get us to 3 a.m. Honestly, I think that's more realistic and that would do the city the service it needs," Waldner said.

In the meantime, the Milwaukee Police Department says it uses its additional CART-trained officers by sharing counselors with the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office and the West Allis Police Department.

Report a typo or error // Submit a news tip