When Scott County Sheriff Luke Hennen began his career in law enforcement 25 years ago, talking about mental health wasn’t something that happened regularly.
After being elected to his second full term in the Nov. 8 general election, Hennen says it’s not only something that he’s encouraging — it’s an issue that he considers one of his top priorities.
“That was a priority of mine four years ago, and it’s been a priority for the past six,” Hennen said.
When working to address the mental health crisis, Hennen knows that it’s not just people out in public or those in Scott County Jail — it could also be a matter of helping staff members or deputies themselves.
Having a new program in place to address that issue is something Hennen considers a proud moment since first being appointed in 2016.
Mental wellnessHennen said over the past couple years, there have been a lot of conversations about how the county can make sure employees who work for the Sheriff’s Office are both physically and mentally healthy.
Through a program started this fall, deputies, jail staffers, support staff or anyone who works for the department will have the chance to check in with a mental health professional every six weeks after the County Board approved funding it.
“I’m very proud to get that going right now,” Hennen.
Hennen said that the program is completely anonymous and voluntary.
“The employees can sign up through the vendor. We don’t know who signed up or didn’t,” Hennen said.
Hennen said one of the biggest issues that needs to be addressed is determining how to best address the mental health crisis in Scott County.
“That’s not just law enforcement that’s figuring out how the county and other providers can meet people where they are at and help keep them out of law enforcement contact, keep them out of our jail and actually help them where they’re needed before it gets to that point,” Hennen said.
Hennen said one pilot program that the county will soon be part of is what is known as a “coordinated response model.”
Hennen said that there would be mental health professionals who work at the county level who are embedded in law enforcement agencies across the county.
Unlike co-responders, which have mental health professionals respond to calls with officers, Hennen said that the county tried to go with a different approach.
With their approach, Hennen said it would allow professionals to be at the station who can either respond to a call or follow-up what happened during the previous shift to help determine how to best address the issue at hand.
For example, Hennen said it may be a matter of someone having a medication adjustment a couple of days prior, or someone who may be in need of housing or other resources.
“It’s a more aggressive way to just solve the problems,” Hennen said.
Hennen said that instead of having to have a deputy and co-responder dedicated to one squad car, it will give them better coverage by having them stationed at an office.
While he didn’t have a committed date for when the program would be in place, Hennen said he hopes it will be up and running shortly after the beginning of the year.
“That will be a big win,” Hennen said.
Staffing concernsAs most entities are struggling to recruit and retain employees, Hennen says it’s no different for law enforcement.
Hennen sees it as an immediate concern as he enters his second full-term.
“The immediate (concern) that everyone kind of talks about is true; staffing-wise in law enforcement is a big issue,” Hennen said.
Recently in Jordan, not only did the city council approve a $5,000 sign-on bonus for the next officer they hire, the council also approved a 11% raise for most of their police officers as part of the contract signed in November.
“It’s still a pretty worrisome situation,” Hennen said.
Hennen said it’s not just a struggle to find deputies. There is also difficulty in finding dispatchers and those who work in the jail.
“I think a lot of it has been impacted by politics,” Hennen said.
Hennen pointed to conversations happening like “defunding the police” or “police reform” as conversations that aren’t helping their cause.
“All these conversations have taught people to think that ‘yeah law enforcement isn’t a good job, yeah law enforcement isn’t safe, law enforcement isn’t rewarding,’” Hennen said.
Hennen said young people who are interested in law enforcement are being talked out of going into law enforcement.
“That’s what’s happening right now. People are turning young adults away from these careers because of all the conversations going on in our world,” Hennen said.
Hennen said he feels that being in law enforcement is a good and rewarding career, and he hopes people will enter the field.
“We need more people to step up and serve,” Hennen said.
Despite those conversations, Hennen says that the support law enforcement receives in Scott County hasn’t wavered.
“If you go to a gas station, coffee shop, or restaurant in uniform in Scott County, somebody or more than one person is going to go up to you and say hi, pat you on the back and thank you.”
Hennen said while people have supported law enforcement his entire career, it wasn’t displayed as much as it is now.
Jail studyFor the past couple of years, Hennen said he pushed for a jail study to be done to see what level of staffing the jail should be at and where it is now.
That study was recently completed and presented to the Scott County Board.
“That was a pretty big accomplishment getting the county board and administration on board with us by looking at this need and trying to operate the jail correctly and safely, reduce our turnover and also reduce risk to the county,” Hennen said.
Hennen says his goal in his second full term is to implement the recommendations in the study, which calls for the hiring of 15 additional full-time employees.
Hennen says he hopes the county board will approve his funding request for 12 positions this year, which includes eight correctional officers and four medical technicians.
Hennen will be sworn in for this second full-term as sheriff on Jan. 3.