Cases handled by Woodstock Police officers that may benefit from social services will receive a follow-up from a social worker.
The Woodstock Police Department, along with departments in Cary and Algonquin, is part of a pilot program that connects a social worker with people who may need it. The program, funded by the McHenry County Mental Health Board, is designed to assess the need — and potentially create a permanent position — for a social worker in the department.
Cristina Mendoza will split her time between Cary, Algonquin and Woodstock. Mendoza grew up in Genoa and attended the University of Texas-San Antonio, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. She works for the Association for Individual Development, a nonprofit that strives to provide people in need with a social service.
An officer who deals with an incident that may benefit from services beyond what the officer is able to provide can refer the case to Mendoza for follow-up. Some examples of cases that could be brought to a social worker include youth problems, substance abuse issues, senior citizen needs, orders of protection and domestic-related incidents. Although police officers are able to provide some level of help to the people involved in those cases, sometimes people don’t want help at the time of police contact or would benefit from further assistance.
“We live in an evolving society,” Mendoza said. “These are problems that were not even spoken of just a few years ago. The bullying in school was not known. The domestic violence in different cultures was being swept under the rug. I would like to be a part of the new generation and the new way of thinking. That is why I chose this line of work. I enjoy taking on the challenge.”
The program already has been implemented in Kane County, and WPD Police Chief John Lieb believes there is a need for it in Woodstock as well.
“It is my opinion that this program is going to be a potential win-win-win for all stakeholders. A ‘win’ for the citizens of Woodstock, who receive the social services care and attention that they need, a ‘win’ for the Woodstock Police officers as we try to stem the increasing burden of social services responsibilities on our law enforcers, and a ‘win’ for the entire community because they will receive additional protection by our police personnel since their time obligation on social-services types of calls may be decreased,” Lieb wrote in an email.
So far, about 40 cases from the three departments have been referred to Mendoza. The nine-month pilot program runs through November.
“The city of Woodstock Police Department wishes to recognize and thank the McHenry County Mental Health Board, MCHB Executive Director Scott Block and Cary Police Deputy Chief Scott Naydenoff for their efforts in making this initiative a reality,” Lieb added.
Mendoza knew she wanted to help others and be involved in law enforcement and said the work, although it comes with challenges, is ultimately rewarding.
“The hardest part is trying to help people who don’t want the help. When they know that they need help but don’t want it, or they’ve been through so much and let down so many times — to show those people that someone really does want to help you. Helping those people, whether it’s big or it is small, you feel accomplished. Everybody came together to make that happen,” Mendoza said.