Law enforcement agencies across the country are participating in discussions to “reimagine” the business of policing.
As agencies are expected to “soften their approach” with budgets getting slashed, sending social workers to handle “non-violent” calls for service is a hot topic.
While this might have merit to some degree, one grossly overlooked fact is that many of these calls are potentially combustible; a truth that appears to be missing from the conversation.
One example is the St. Petersburg Police Department. They will no longer respond to “non-violent” 911 calls, such as quality-of-life complaints or mental health concerns,” Law Officer reported.
The department will instead send employees from a newly created Community Assistance Liaison (CAL) Division, which officials described as “a social service agency.” They will respond to 911 calls pertaining to a number of issues, including drug overdoses, disorderly intoxications, suicide crises, panhandling, and more, the department said in a recent press release.
Beginning October 1, the St. Petersburg Police Department will dispatch a CAL team member (social worker) to the following calls for service:
- Disorderly intoxication
- Drug overdose
- Intoxicated person
- Mental health crisis
- Suicide crisis
- Mental health transport
- Disorderly juvenile/truancy
- Disorderly juvenile at elementary schools
- Homeless complaints
- Neighborhood dispute
While a large percentage of these calls can be handled peacefully, the described situations can also become combustible and unpredictable. To what degree is the agency assuming liability by placing a social worker in harm’s way? To what degree is a social worker willing to put him or herself in this kind of vicarious position? Furthermore, how many times will the social worker need to call for police assistance? St. Petersburg Police Department is willing to take the risk to find out.
Sending social workers to law enforcement related calls for service is like having a hospital emergency room open with no physician present. Yet one city council after another is considering this option.
Many police agencies have created specialty assignments involving sworn police officers dealing with mental health and homeless issues. These programs have achieved tremendous results and should be the model. The personnel involved are sworn officers in possession of tools of the trade, something woke politicians want to eradicate.
One example is the Mental Evaluation Team (MET) of the Long Beach Police Department.
MET consists of sworn officers who are partnered with clinicians from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (DMH). MET provides additional resources to patrol by responding to and handling calls involving the mentally ill and homeless.
This is a short list of problems that unarmed social workers will face when handling the so-called “non-violent” calls for service:
- Violence erupts without warning. As a result, social workers will engage in force, or be injured, before a sworn officer arrives on scene.
- Social workers do not obtain the same use of force training, so they will be at a disadvantage.
- State mandated training should not be reduced if social workers are placed in the role of a “peace officer,” regardless of their categorization as a CAL team member.
- People with limited law enforcement training have a tendency to over-respond AND under-respond during a crisis. We see this frequently when media personalities go through simulation training. More often than not they kill the innocent person or suffer fatal consequences themselves due to inaction during the training exercise.
- Many of the situations listed by St. Petersburg could lead to arrest. Social workers are rarely familiar with search and seizure laws, which need to be maintained as they are fluid and constantly changing, … unless arrests are permanently abandoned?
- Social workers will be in danger without having a sheepdog persona. This is not a knock on social workers, but a reality in the way different personalities are wired. A sheepdog has an awareness of danger; the ability to identify red flags that put people at risk; the genetic make-up that motivates a person to charge forward instead of retreat.
- Consequently, unarmed and untrained social workers placed in the role traditionally held by a police officer will make them vulnerable to injury and death.
- There are reasons why we have “divisions of work,” and this is one example.
Beyond this list of problems is the unrealistic demand that will be placed upon police dispatchers to accurately triage which of these calls is “non-violent” based upon a brief telephone conversation. Is a drunk walking around with a bottle of Jack Daniels passive? How about the boyfriend who just called in the overdose of his girlfriend? What about the unidentified panhandler who has an arrest warrant for felony assault?
The scenario’s are endless.
If this becomes the trend, we are about to see a spike in civilian injuries and deaths in law enforcement. Will your agency participate in the game of Russian Roulette?
– Jim McNeff