AMU Emergency Management Fire & EMS Law Enforcement Original Public Safety

Social Workers and Police Officers Need to Merge Their Talents

By Allison G. S. Knox
Edge Contributor

Political scientists often argue that we revisit policies or create new policies based on the needs of society as various issues emerge. Political scientists use a number of different policy frameworks like the Multiple Streams Framework to describe this phenomenon in the American government system.

Certainly, we develop public safety policies that are a reaction to what is happening in society. However, developing policies in reaction to incidents can be particularly devastating when we realize that there are problems in how we handle certain 911 situations.

For example, the deaths of some individuals could have been avoided. Two noteworthy incidents include George Floyd’s death in 2020 and Gabby Petito’s death in 2021.

While both deaths were vastly different from each other, they have similarities. Both deaths were preventable and perhaps both victims could have had more positive outcomes if law enforcement actions had been different.

The Argument for Social Workers to Accompany Officers on 911 Calls Is Valid

The concept that social workers should go out with police officers on their calls is an interesting and valid argument. Perhaps if social workers did go out with police officers on 911 calls, those social workers could create a more positive outcome for 911 victims.

The argument for social workers to get involved with 911 emergencies is not a new concept and has been around for several years. According to an article written by Melissa Stone, a Senior Police Social Worker in Indiana, “In March 2019, the Bloomington, (Indiana) Police Department (BPD) hired its first embedded police social worker (PSW) to expand its previously implemented community-based policing initiative, such as its homeless outreach team, the Downtown Resource Officer Program.”

We sometimes ask law enforcement to act as social workers, but this is not their primarily responsibility. Police officers look at 911 calls from a law enforcement standpoint. Unless we retrain police officers to have a social worker mindset, we’re putting too much burden on any one person.

Social workers getting involved with law enforcement, however, would merge two important areas together. It would also bring a useful alternate perspective to various 911 calls.

For instance, in Mr. Floyd’s case, a social worker may have been able to stop the situation from escalating. In Ms. Petito’s case, perhaps a social worker would have noticed some of the signs of domestic violence. Many people noticed these signs of domestic violence recorded in the body camera footage when police responded to a 911 call involving Ms. Petito and her boyfriend.

Ultimately, we need to rethink how we’re putting together law enforcement units. Social workers embedded with a team of police officers could definitely change people’s lives for the better.

Allison G. S. Knox teaches in the fire science and emergency management departments at American Military University and American Public University. Focusing on emergency management and emergency medical services policy, she often writes and advocates about these issues. Allison serves as the At-Large Director of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians and as Chancellor of the Southeast Region on the Board of Trustees with Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society in Social Sciences. She is also chair of Pi Gamma Mu’s Leadership Development Program. Prior to teaching, Allison worked for a member of Congress in Washington, D.C. and in a Level One trauma center emergency department. She is an emergency medical technician and holds four master’s degrees.

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