Originally from Plattsburgh, New York, Sergeant Sarah Shimko smiles as she describes the close proximity of that community's elementary school, middle school, high school, and the state university – all of which she attended. "I was a homebody," she says, noting all the schools she attended, Kindergarten through higher education, are within two miles of one another. In addition to her bachelor's degree, Sarah graduated from Plattsburgh State University with a master's degree in Community and School Counseling. An internship opportunity at Madison's very own Sennett Middle School is what finally got her out of New York's North Country.
Holistically proactive approaches have been a common theme in Sarah's professional career. She previously worked for Briarpatch as Group Facilitator for Teens Like Us, an educational support group for LGBTQ youth. At the same time, she worked as an intermediate level School Counselor in Stoughton. In 2005, Sarah submitted her application for the MPD, and was offered a position. "The opportunity seemed right," she says, referencing the tasks and professional opportunities of the job. She graduated the MPD Academy into solo patrol, and worked as a patrol officer, and then patrol sergeant for 12 and a half years. Sgt. Shimko became MPD's first Mental Health Unit Sergeant in June 2018.
Regarding her role as the leader of the Mental Health Unit, Sarah explains that it was a natural combination of professional interests. She says that it is not always clear or simple to come to an appropriate disposition in police investigations where criminal charges are appropriate and a mental health nexus exists. Furthermore, mental health challenges complicate interactions with law enforcement. Sarah reflects, "Each case needs to be looked at holistically."
Outside of the uniform, Sarah spends time with her family as a proud partner and mother. She adds, "When I retire, I can see myself doing something in cooking or landscaping." But when you see Sgt. Shimko walking in the annual September NAMI walk, she is clearly in the right place, right now.
We Are the 28: Mental Health Awareness Month
The Mental Health Officer Team is comprised of six Mental Health Officers, a Mental Health Sergeant, and two embedded Law Enforcement Crisis Workers from Journey Mental Health. The composition of the team is critical to the success of Police-Mental Health collaboration.
The work of a Mental Health Officer is both varied and demanding. The Department selects these officers through a competitive process based on their demonstrated qualifications. These include an understanding of various mental disorders and a proven ability to interact with people living with mental health concerns with sensitivity, patience, and compassion; an understanding of mental health system processes and statutes; and the ability to form strong working relationships with partner agencies.
In association with Mental Health Awareness Month, join us throughout May as we recognize and highlight some of the dedicated women of the Mental Health Officer Team.