Opinion

Cops working with social workers is nothing new

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This is one of those scenarios that my liberal and even some of my non-cop conservative friends think is a good idea when they first hear about it —dispatching social workers instead of the cops to calls of people with mental problems— until they talk to me. During my career, my patrol beat included one of the most dense concentrations of folks with mental disorders and mental health facilities.

My contact with people with mental disorders occurred regularly. In fact, back then, I received Christmas cards from the director of one of those facilities. I also received commendations from other area mental health professionals (MHP, social workers) for my work with them.

Cops and social workers working together is not new. At least, it wasn’t in the Seattle Police Department. MHPs would call us when they felt they were going to deal with someone inclined toward violence. We would call MHPs when we thought they could assist with our situation. It was largely a positive relationship. However, there are some hitches to consider.

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Now, some folks are talking about proactively dispatching social workers with police officers on certain calls. Well, in my experience, what a person tells the 911 dispatcher and what is really happening at the incident location are often two different things. This could be a colossal waste of time and resources when social workers show up when they are not needed.

Another dubious (diplomatic replacement for lunatic) consideration is dispatching social workers to certain calls instead of police. This poses an enormous risk. There is a reason police officers are always armed; cops never know what’s going to happen on a call. Parking complaints become major crime incidents and domestic violence assaults in progress turn out to be a Columbian immigrant couple watching a World Cup soccer match (yes, that happened to me).

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When I was in the police academy, our instructors showed us the dramatization of a call a King County Sheriff’s detective responded to many years ago. He was to deliver a simple eviction notice to a resident—a man with mental issues.

As I recall, the detective stood on the porch, holding the eviction paperwork. He knocked on the door. The man cracked open the door and, through the space, reached out with a sword and stabbed the detective in the stomach, killing him. Under this “reimagined policing,” could this have been a likely call for social workers?

Another problem is cops and social workers, though some aspects of their jobs may overlap, have very different functions and perspectives when dealing with incidents. Social workers deal with clients; cops deal with suspects.

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Problems can occur when social workers don’t agree with how an officer is handling an incident. If the social worker remains quiet and talks to the officer about any concerns after the call, that’s fine. However, if they decide to say something and interfere with the officer during the call, there’s a potential problem. Like any other civilian, social workers don’t go to the police academy. Often, they don’t know why cops do what they do, and that can cause problems.

To be fair, it can go the other way, too. Although I haven’t seen it, I can imagine it. An officer doesn’t agree with the social worker’s approach and says so. I can already see the complaints and counter complaints flying back and forth between the cops’ and social workers’ supervisors’ in-boxes.

Many agencies also have officers specifically trained to handle crisis intervention aspects of a police call. In fact, generally, cops get some crisis intervention training in the police academy and then during advanced training over the course of their careers. I know; I got it. Our department also had a dedicated Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) it could deploy with other police officers on certain mental health-related calls. That way, being cops, there is a better chance everyone will be in sync.

I vote for keeping it the way it is (not that anyone cares what cops think these days, even though they’re the ones trained to do police work. Just sayin’). Cops can continue to call social workers when they need them, and social workers can call cops when they need them. You know, kind of how it’s been working for years.

Of course, if defunding the cops is successful, units such as Seattle’s CIT will be some of the first cuts the department will have to make. Ironically, this goes against what the Left often says it wants of its police officers. Instead, they’ve chosen to join with Marxists in defunding and/or abolishing the police. See how that works for people with mental disorders, not to mention the social workers who will have to deal with them—while defenseless.

meet the author

Steve Pomper is a retired Seattle police officer. He's served as a field training officer and on the East Precinct Community Police Team. He's the author of four books, including "De-Policing America: A Street Cop's View of the Anti-Police State." He's also a contributor to the National Police Association.

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