One of the things that the Defund the Police movement has called for is using social workers for certain calls rather than police officers. This has been blasted by opponents as a particularly stupid idea. After all, with many of these calls, you’ll end up with dead social workers and still no police officers on the scene.
However, in fairness, having just the police respond to certain calls isn’t necessarily a great thing either. Police officers aren’t trained to deal with people having a mental health crisis, whereas the social worker actually is.
Now, a Pennsylvania town is rolling out a program that seeks to find the best of both worlds.
Bucks County authorities on Thursday announced a new program that aims to pair Bensalem Township police officers with social workers and divert people in need of social services away from the criminal justice system.
The program, a two-year pilot effort, aims to reduce the amount of time police spend on social service-related calls, authorities said. Data on the program will be collected to determine whether it is effective and should be expanded.
Bucks officials’ decision to pair police with social workers in certain cases comes amid a movement to reform the way officers respond to 911 calls.
”We respond to drug addiction … to homelessness, … to hoarding complaints, elderly issues, children issues, family issues, neighbor issues, and of course mental health issues, which unfortunately continues to grow and grow and grow,” Bensalem Public Safety Director Fred Harran said during an afternoon news conference at the township building attended by Bucks County Commissioners Diane Ellis-Marseglia, Bob Harvie, and Gene DiGirolamo, Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub, Bensalem Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo, and the two newly hired co-responders.
Will this approach work? Honestly? Who the hell knows.
What I do know is that social workers have their place, as do police officers. Calling them for non-emergency issues with some of these calls makes sense. However, there needs to be some common sense exercised. Domestic violence calls can be among some of the most dangerous calls police officers respond to, but they’re at least armed. Sending a social worker to such a call, however, is a recipe for disaster. Oh, it might work in a number of cases, but all it takes is one failure to show just how bad an idea it is.
However, there is a balance that can be reached. Will Bucks County figure out the formula for that balance? Again, who the hell knows. What I do know is that there’s been a concerted effort to push for social workers to be used instead of police for a variety of calls that sound like something a social worker should respond to, but often isn’t.
Let’s hope that if the balance isn’t right, they figure it out before some well-meaning public employee is murdered because he or she was out on a call that should have been for law enforcement, not a bureaucrat/therapist. I really would rather not write that story if we can avoid it, you know?