The mission of a social worker is to be a rights advocate of those disempowered by society and become a voice on behalf of individuals who are not listened to or who cannot speak for themselves. The need has rapidly increased for social workers to begin positioning themselves within law enforcement so that they can aid units with better practices of how to handle those individuals possibly dealing with such issues as homelessness, mental illness, and/or living with substance abuse disorders. As we know, law enforcement officers are routinely responding to calls in the community related to these three examples, and are expected to have instant solutions to what can be very complex situations.
As a MSW (Masters of Social Work) graduate, I can visualize the positive impact a social worker can have within a law enforcement environment. With our educational background and understanding as to how to navigate through various situations with potential clients, especially emotionally charged ones, a social worker can provide a non-judgmental perspective and allow further guidance when handling citizens who may exhibit signs of certain disorders or substance abuse. We are trained to pay attention to an individual’s behavior and assess where that person is coming from while focusing additionally on environmental factors that could exacerbate their condition or the situation in which they are involved. For instance, the response of police officers responding to homicides and robberies could have a service function as victims may require crisis intervention, support, and referrals. An example of service-related functions include responding to family disputes in which no crime has occurred, but crisis intervention and mediation skills are required. Knowing how to verbally deescalate those struggling or exhibiting emotionally unstable characteristics that law enforcement officials may not be trained to maneuver around or fully know how to navigate would make the social worker a valuable source.
Given the tension society currently faces with communities and law enforcement, hiring a social worker within a police department could potentially offer a valuable resource for officers to collaborate with in order to bridge the gap with diverse communities and hear the voices of those who either feel unheard or cannot fully garner support for themselves.