The City of Bloomington, and the Bloomington Police Department, are hosting the 2021 National Conference on Police Social Work this week from October 18-20.
Earnest Stevens, who appeared in the HBO Documentary Ernie and Joe, and retired in January from the San Antonio police, was the keynote speaker Monday.
Stevens talked about the integration of social work and police work to better help citizens who may be having a mental health crisis, and to benefit the communities police serve. He said prior to 2008 San Antonio had no mental health unit, and that he wouldn’t have liked the response of police if he had been on the receiving end of his own response to a crisis.
The program started with a couple of officers, but was soon the subject of an article in the Atlantic:
Stevens said an overresponse of police to a crisis can escalate a situation and recalled one instance where it caused a person attempting suicide to jump. He said the job comes down to empathy and is more about human contact.
Stevens said the police uniform is the first use of force, and how police appear. If someone shows up to someone’s crisis like an episode of Batman, wearing all sorts of police gear, that’s kind of scary. So, he said he would show up in blue jeans, in an unmarked car.
Stevens said it’s officer’s job to treat people with dignity and respect, and that many mental health crises are a result of untreated childhood trauma.
Stevens said social workers working with police can help the unhoused with problems such as identity replacement, and in the past police officers couldn’t help with those issues. He said a person has a hard time getting into a homeless shelter without an ID. But, he admitted some are hard to help, and it’s frustrating, but told members of the audience to just “keep chipping away.”
At the beginning of the talk, Stevens showed a clip of a woman who wanted to jump to her death, but she was talked down. He said he still stays in touch with the woman even though he’s now retired to see how she’s doing.
Bloomington Police Department Chief Mike Deikhoff said the Bloomington Police Department has had resource officers for several years now and admitted it’s not the only way to do things, and it isn’t perfect, but it’s a solution. Diekhoff said after Ronald Reagan cut government money for mental health, and effectively put people with mental health issues onto the streets there was nobody to help them.
Sometimes the police would get 20 calls from a person having a mental health crisis or would have to respond to a report of a person having a mental health crisis, and it was clear that the job had fallen on police departments so police departments have evolved over time.
The Downtown Resource Officer program along with help from Centerstone, and others, provides multiple types of responses to mental health and other issues community members might be having. Social workers are able to follow up, and that takes that work off the shoulders of patrol officers. He said the city has helped a lot of people by finding them social services.
Deikhoff referred to the 21st Century Policing task force put forth by former President Barack Obama:
Pillar 1 is building trust and legitimacy:
“People are more likely to obey the law when they believe that those
who are enforcing it have the legitimate authority to tell them what
to do . . . . The public confers legitimacy only on those they believe
are acting in procedurally just ways.” – 21st Century Policing.
A group calling themselves the “Abolitionist Social Workers” marched from Peoples Park to the Monroe County Convention Center to protest Monday morning. A flier said, “Social Work is not Police Work.”
The Bloomingtonian asked some questions to IU and IUPUI masters of social work students Devin Wolfe and Jacquie Cope, who had joined the protest against the convention.
“We just want to denounce Social Work involvement with policing, it doesn’t make any sense for our professional values of social justice, to work with systems that attack our communities and perpetuate social injustice,” said Wolfe.
Video of the interview:
Cope said that Cahoots in Eugene, Oregon is the closest organization to what they think would be an ethical use of social workers to help community members having a crisis.
Deikhoff said he’s aware of the work Cahoots does, and while the Bloomington DRO program isn’t the same, he said they offer some similar services.
The City of Bloomington issued a press release about the convention in September:
“FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 22, 2021
For more information, please contact:
Ryan Pedigo, Captain, Bloomington Police Department, [email protected] or (812) 349-3324.
Bloomington Hosts National Police Social Work Conference as Field’s First Major Opportunity for Education and Networking
Bloomington, Ind. – The City of Bloomington and the Bloomington Police Department will host the 2021 National Conference on Police Social Work October 18-20 in downtown Bloomington. The conference will provide an unprecedented opportunity for national leaders from the law enforcement and social work fields to explore and share successful methods and best practices for embedded social workers in police departments. Registration is requested by October 11 at National Conference on Police Social Work – October 2021 | Bloomington, Indiana, with continuing education credits included in the cost of registration.
Indiana’s first police agency to employ a full-time, embedded social worker, the BPD launched its program in 2019 as part of a larger effort to expand capacity to address non-criminal situations by establishing connections and building trust in the community. Based on the effectiveness of the added position, the BPD and Mayor John Hamilton added two more social workers in 2021, funding for which was approved by City Council. Since 2019, the BPD has frequently served as a resource for other agencies around the country beginning their own programs.
“Our BPD social workers bring critical resources and connections to people in tough situations, helping to avoid escalation into crises,” said Mayor Hamilton. “They are change makers and vital public safety partners. I applaud the BPD for its pioneering rollout of our social worker program, which is making Bloomington a safer and more caring community, and we welcome folks from around the country to explore and expand future potential.”
“As we’ve ramped up our social worker program, the BPD has gotten more and more interest from other agencies seeking to do the same,” said Chief Michael Diekhoff. “The conference will provide formal education and networking opportunities that will strengthen our program and benefit the field nationally.”
Appropriate for law enforcement agency personnel, mental health partners of law enforcement agencies, and any community official or stakeholder involved in the creation or management of a police social work program, the conference will offer eleven sessions over three days on such topics as ethics, clinician wellness, politics and funding, safety considerations, data collection, onboarding, and merging operations.
Keynote speakers for the conference are hostage negotiation expert and professor of psychology and counseling, Dr. Andy Young, and crisis and resiliency specialist Ernest Stevens, a former Texas police officer and subject of the award-winning HBO documentary, “Ernie & Joe: Crisis Cops.”
Registrants without a law enforcement agency affiliation or professional connection are asked to contact [email protected] prior to registering.