ST. LEO, FL - Today, law enforcement agencies find themselves dealing not only with investigating crimes, but also aiding those experiencing mental health issues, drug and alcohol addiction and overdoses, and many other issues. Now, those in the social work field are being called on to assist and even join some police agencies to help engage and create a safe environment for all.
Saint Leo University and F1RST- Florida’s Forensics Institute for Research Security & Tactics will present a free webinar at 2 p.m., Monday, October 12, via Zoom, to explore the opportunities social workers and law enforcement have to work together. The panel discussion, The Evolving Movement to Engage and Protect Our Community, will feature four experts: St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway; Pasco County Sheriff’s Office Future Operations Bureau Chief Phil Kapusta, who oversees the Behavioral Health Unit; licensed clinical social worker James (Jim) Cowser of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation; and Dr. Lisa Rapp-McCall, professor in Saint Leo’s Graduate Social Work Department and a research associate in the Maribeth Durst Applied Research Institute.
Earlier this year, Holloway announced plans for the St. Petersburg Police Department to deploy social workers to nonviolent calls rather than uniformed officers. Around the country, there are calls for police reform and one aspect of that is to involve social workers in responding to nonviolent situations. Holloway’s agency is using funding that had been earmarked for new officers to hire social workers instead and hopes to have about 25 hired by January 2021.
Saint Leo University and F1RST are hosting this webinar to discuss how social workers and law enforcement can join forces to improve their communities. Social workers, law enforcement officers, prospective students interested in careers in those fields, and the public are invited to join the webinar on October 12. Register for the Zoom webinar by going to Social Work and Policing Discussion (https://saintleo.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_EYCZpcvqRhKD10diGT7pxA).
“A coordinated approach to these needs will help promote improved outcomes for the community members served and increase safety through de-escalation and connection to treatment,” said Dr. Michael Campbell, associate director of the university’s social work graduate program and an associate professor.
“It makes sense to have social workers assisting individuals who have mental health issues, who might be suicidal, homeless, struggling with substances, etc., because we work with those individuals every day,” Rapp-McCall said. “However, whenever two different professions come together to achieve similar goals, it is essential to establish relationships and discuss how their logistics would work. How will we manage two different professional philosophies? How will social workers support LEOs [law enforcement officers]? When is it NOT appropriate for social workers to be involved?”
The webinar’s presenters will share information to help answer those questions. Cowser will speak about collaborative training for first responders to understand addiction and connect people to treatment as well as details about an opioid-focused treatment program in a county jail that has had excellent outcomes for prisoners and the staff working with the program, Campbell said. Rapp-McCall has interviewed social workers who work with police and will share several available models to consider and the research behind them.
Holloway will discuss St. Petersburg’s plans for adding the social workers and Kapusta will share information about the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office unit that deals with behavioral health issues and the reasons the unit was created.
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