OPD social worker responds to community mental health needs


Photo by Jillian Inks

Ashlea Weddle uses court records to gather data on issues of interest for the OPD to use in her monthly data report.

By Jillian Inks

Oxford has hired a social worker to work with police in connecting residents with social services.

Ashlea Weddle, 39, the police department social services liaison since Aug. 15, has spent the last weeks familiarizing herself with social services agencies around Oxford like TLC Transitional Living, The Family Resource Center, HopeLine, Butler County Children Services, and Butler Behavioral Health

After earning a master’s degree in social work from the University of Illinois Chicago, Weddle worked for Chicago social services for the past 16 years, including 13 years in child protection with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. For the last three years, she was the supervisor of the child protection and abuse hotline in Illinois.

Weddle described her job as assisting citizens and being sure that the community is connected where they need to be.

“Sometimes when officers get a call, they’re not 100% sure what services would be appropriate,” said Weddle. 

Weddle’s new position includes going through emails sent from officers’ shifts, covering people they’ve encountered who might need help from various services. 

“I don’t have a typical day,” Weddle said.

Oxford Police Lt. Lara Fening. Photo Provided by City of Oxford 

Lara Fening, Oxford police lieutenant and public relations officer, said typical concerns of Oxford citizens are mental health issues, substance abuse, and homelessness.

Fening said that police officers are learning to rethink ways that they have traditionally handled cases and rather learning to consider, “Oh, this might be a great case for Ashlea to handle.”

By tracking repeat clients and interactions with social services agencies, Fening said that the data collected by Weddle will increase the city’s understanding of social problems, as well as teach new officers how to handle mental health cases.

After years of living in the Windy City, Weddle, who is originally from Fountain City, Indiana, said she was looking forward to moving back to a small town like Oxford, as well as being closer to both her family and fiance.

“I saw this position and thought it was just perfect,” said Weddle.