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More Calls for Social Workers to Work with Police

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Previously we’ve highlighted several stories that have to do with the increasingly prevalent cooperation between social workers and police. Law enforcement is learning that it’s easier to root out the causes of social problems and preempt them, rather than to deal with the lawbreaking that sometimes results. It might be more accurate to say, rather, that it’s not exactly easier, but it is most definitely a more proactive approach to preventing crimes before they occur. Now Shelby Le Duc, in the Green Bay Press Gazette, has detailed the call to add social workers to police staff in Green Bay, WI.

“The Green Bay Police Department could soon add a clinical social worker to its effort to more help people during mental health crises,” Le Duc writes. “The social worker would work alongside the department’s two behavioral health officers to form a team that would help defuse mental health crisis events and connect those who police come in contact with treatment and other resources.”

Le Duc explains that a social worker will cost the county over $70,000 a year, but that this cost will be offset by a drop in the number of emergency commitments to the county’s treatment center. This math is very real and very telling: Given the chronic shortage of qualified mental health professionals in the United States — a problem that is not going away any time soon — prevention is worth every penny. Preempting mental health crises before they begin, through the application of social work, might even amplify every dollar spent on preemption. In other words, many more dollars in crime and mental health treatment might result if the funds are not spent on preventive social work.

“About 10 percent of inmates at Brown County Jail have a severe mental health illness,” Le Duc explains. “About 7 percent of police calls in jurisdictions with 100,000 people or more involve the mentally ill.

A Green Bay police officer averages roughly six encounters with a person undergoing a mental health crisis per month… Police departments in Milwaukee, Madison and Wausau have added social workers and have seen improvements…”

While it might seem cold to couch the problem as one of budgetary math, the result is clear: Adding a social worker to police staff helps prevent problems before they become worse. This saves money in treatment but, more importantly, helps lighten the strain on already overburdened mental healthcare facilities. It may even, in the bargain, improve day to day conditions for police officers, who will have more tools at their disposal when dealing with those members of the public who would benefit from social work intervention.

What do you think? Is this a good idea? Is the increasing cooperation of social workers with police a marriage of convenience only… or one that will benefit everyone in the long run? Please share your opinion with us now in the comments.

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