From: David Knight,
Former Winona Police lieutenant, Winona County social service manager, and Florida Department of Children and Families administrator
As a retired law enforcement officer with 15 years of service, and nearly 20 years as a county and state social service manager, I believe I have a unique perspective regarding the use of civilian professionals in law enforcement. Allow me to make several observations and suggestions about such a plan. First of all I think the concept has a great deal of merit. However to begin with I would plead that we quit referring to these professionals as “social workers.” Unfortunately like police officers, there are many community members who view “social workers” as a negative influence, perhaps due to their previous experience with a child abuse or neglect case, investigated by social workers, or a negative child support or custody case. Therefore I would urge that the police and city officials begin to refer to these professionals as “crisis intervention specialists.” Granted they may well be trained social workers with strong mental health backgrounds, or they may be trained law enforcement or criminal justice professionals with strong crisis intervention and/or negotiation skills. But their primary role is to assist police in the intervention of a crisis situation with the ultimate goal being a positive outcome for those individuals involved as well as for the responding law enforcement officers.
Persons with mental health issues, or drug addiction issues, or domestic violence issues, or homeless, often find themselves in situations that they really don’t want to be in, but they don’t see any way out but to combat the law enforcement response. Crisis intervention specialists responding and clearly identified as such by marked response vehicles, and identifiable uniform like an EMT or other health professional, could very well send the message to these troubled individuals that there may be another way “out.” Certainly the crisis intervention specialists would not be the sole, or first responders but would “team” with law enforcement to utilize their specific mental health training, or de-escalation and negotiation techniques to reduce the volatility of the situation and hopefully prevent harm or injury to any of those involved. Hiring such individuals to support law enforcement must be a clearly defined process with in depth screening regarding that person’s education, training and background.
One additional concern is that law enforcement does not relegate or delegate its responsibilities to civilian personnel by passing off all forms of social issues, but continue their mission of protecting and serving in a new “team effort” utilizing these newly developed resources.