MOUNT VERNON — At the Aug. 10 meeting of Mount Vernon City Council, Police Chief Robert Morgan broached the idea of hiring a social worker in lieu of additional officers.
“The basic idea is to hire a full-time, licensed, master's-degree social worker to work in conjunction with our officers and provide social services immediately to individuals in crisis that have need of it at the scene,” he explained. “So we start the process immediately.”
Megan McKee, a licensed social worker who spent nine months riding with officers while working on her doctoral thesis, gave the MVPD a glimpse of what it would be like with a social worker on board. She worked directly with the officers in different scenarios, including domestic violence, child abuse, and substance abuse.
McKee previously worked at Behavioral Health Partners as a crisis counselor and at Knox Community Hospital as a patient advocate. She currently is in patient advocacy at Mount Carmel Medical Center. Morgan said she provided “the full gamut of things that encompass social work that would help our police department and aid officers in having on-board experience in things like crisis training.”
“The response from the officers and the public was amazing,” said Morgan. “She could actually get the ball rolling immediately at the scene vs. sometimes the hours needed.”
Morgan said that having McKee on the scene to initiate social service referrals also precluded some arrests. For example, an individual with mental health issues frequently is arrested and taken to jail to await evaluation by a mental health professional. McKee's triage avoided that.
“I have long been a proponent that people with mental health issues don't always need to go to jail,” said Morgan. “Jail can make those problems worse.
“I am very excited about this at the police department, and so is pretty much everybody I have spoken to,” he said. “We would almost be breaking new ground with this in a small department.”
On Friday, Morgan told Knox Pages that having a social worker at the scene in a domestic call will “augment our immediate response with someone who is not an officer, not a person in authority.”
“The social worker can interact with the victim of the domestic violence call almost immediately,” he said. “Sometimes the best response is not a police response. Sometimes the best response is someone with a different skill set than law enforcement.
“I think the person can be like a citizens' advocate with a different set of resources that people can rely on to steer them in the right direction. Somebody else that can step up and say 'talk to me.' One of the big keys is to open the dialogue and steer them in the right direction where they can get the right resources.”
Because the term social worker sometimes carries a negative connotation, Morgan refers to the proposed position as program director of the Community Advocacy Relations Division (CARD). City Council will hold a committee meeting via Zoom on Monday, Aug. 17, at 6:30 p.m. to discuss Morgan's proposal.
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