There have been many calls lately to fundamentally shift the way policing is done in America. Several of these demands are about responding to situations of people in crisis without enforcement. I couldn’t agree more, which is why we’ve pioneered programs like dedicated social workers and a Crisis Intervention Team Squad.
As far as I know, we were the first police department in America to employ social workers. For two years now, a social service worker has been assigned to each of our six patrol division stations. Their job is to help in situations that come to the attention of law enforcement but cannot be resolved by police. They’ve helped a family whose home burned down. They’ve helped victims of domestic violence start new lives. They’ve assisted with drug treatment. And ultimately, they’ve gotten residents the resources they need to be successful and reduced the need for law enforcement involvement. In 2019, KCPD social workers assisted more than 1,820 people.
The social workers also have done a great deal with youth in Kansas City. They have helped resolve neighborhood feuds that originated with youth and would have turned violent without the social workers’ intervention. We deployed them to the Country Club Plaza, which was having a problem with unsupervised teenagers gathering and causing violence and property destruction. With surveys, education and a diversion program, the social workers were able to mostly resolve an issue we had spent nearly a decade unsuccessfully trying to enforce our way out of.
In recent weeks, when so many people were out of work during the COVID-19 shut-down, our social workers partnered with community resources to ensure some of the most vulnerable people in our community had food. Their efforts led to 775 people a day being fed for a month. They were unable to carry out their regular duties because of the pandemic, but they saw the needs and created a whole new way to serve.
Law enforcement also has become the default responders to those in mental health and substance abuse crisis. That’s why I thought it was imperative that all patrol officers who weren’t already Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) certified undergo mental health awareness training. This covers the CIT basics and responding to someone in crisis.
Several years ago, however, we realized how important it was to have a squad of CIT officers dedicated to serving and following up with members of our community with mental illness who came to the attention of law enforcement. They work hand-in-hand with community mental health liaisons (social workers from mental health treatment providers). In the last year, this squad responded to help 212 people who wanted to die by suicide. With their community mental health liaisons, they made 98 visits to people who needed treatment. They also conducted 132 follow-up visits in addition to that. They made 40 visits to homeless camps to help residents get treatment and housing.
They also conducted extensive mental health awareness and de-escalation training for our KCPD officers and other area law enforcement, as well as community and panel presentations.
Thanks to our CIT squad and social workers, thousands of members of our community got the help they really needed instead of being needlessly thrown into the criminal justice system or having a negative counter with law enforcement.
KCPD has been at the forefront of these alternative responses. I presented about our social worker program at the Major Cities Chiefs Association meeting last fall, where the leaders of several other departments showed interest in implementing something similar.
We are continually evaluating our practices and responses to determine what will best serve our community and keep Kansas City safe. The social workers and CIT Squad are a result of that evaluation. That analysis is not over. We will keep looking for places to improve and enhance our service to Kansas City.
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