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Some police departments incorporating social workers into response teams

Posted at 2:35 PM, Jun 26, 2020

While the calls to defund police departments continue, there are some major cities that have already had success in changing police involvement in certain scenarios.

That includes programs that limit police interaction and bring in proper reinforcements in situations where mental health is a primary factor.

"A police officer, a paramedic and a social worker in one vehicle in response to mental health crises as one unit, so they're not waiting for the social worker to arrive or they're not waiting for the paramedic to come," said Kurtis Young, Social Work Director at Parkland Health & Hospital System.

Young is talking about cooperation with Dallas police to bring specialized mental health treatment to 911 emergencies. It’s been in place since 2018.

It’s critical because people with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter. And at least one in four deadly law enforcement encounters involve an individual with serious mental illness.

Our partners at Newsy found since January, the "right care" team has handled more than 6,000 calls. Less than 4% of those calls resulted in an arrest.

Also, "quality of life" citations for things like disorderly conduct and public intoxication have dropped.

The program is an alternative to policing, but at the same time, Young says it doesn't work without police.

“We are a partnership with the police department,” he said. “And that's such an integral piece of it that we're not just social workers out there going house to house and taking 911 calls ourselves, you know. We have been folded into the system and very much welcomed by the police department."

A similar program in Eugene, Oregon, has been around for more than 30 years and responds to about 24,000 calls annually.

The CAHOOTS co-response team says it has never had a “serious injury or death that their team was responsible for.”