In a historic move, the city of Livonia will be adding social workers to its police force, the first in western Wayne County.

Reported by the Detroit Free Press, earlier this week, the city council unanimously voted to partner with Hegira Health to place two social workers with the police force.

Here are some of the major questions that spring to mind...

Will the city be reducing it's police force?

No. This move does not include a reduction to the amount of badged officers on the force.

What's the purpose of social workers on a police force?

Great question. One I've been asking myself recently as more and more people discuss the need for a better response to non-violent emergencies. My mind immediately jumps to the case out of Miami where Charles Kinsey and Arnaldo Rios Soto were shot at by police in what was thought to be a dangerous situation.

Soto was an autistic man who was, as far as I understand it, non-verbal. Police were called to the scene because Soto was sitting in the street after he ran away from his home. He was also holding a silver toy truck which people mistook for a weapon. Kinsey, a social worker, arrived to retrieve his patient, Soto. But, when police arrived and saw both Soto and Kinsey sitting in the road they assumed it was a hostage situation and things escalated from there. Kinsey lay in the street, arms up, trying to explain the situation. Unfortunately, one Miami police officer ended up firing three shots, one of which hit Kinsey. The officer was aiming for Soto, an unarmed, non-verbal, autistic man.

Thankfully, no one died in that situation. But it could have gone much worse. Would the incident have gone differently if that police department had a social worker on staff? Possibly.

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In my opinion, in situations where there are underlying conditions that are not being understood, it is vital to have a professional on site who can deescalate the situation without force. At least to the best of their abilities.

In Livonia, the newly added social workers will form a crisis support team that will:

  • Respond with officers to crisis situations
  • Respond alone in secure situations
  • Perform follow-ups with those in need

Is there a need for this?

Yes. According to the Detroit Free Press, the Livonia Police Department receives about 50 calls related to mental health a month. Those are 50 instances where a police officer may not even be necessary with the new crisis support team. That, in turn, equates to more availability for officers to respond to actual crimes.

Livonia Police Chief Curtis Caid told the Detroit Free Press that he had been working on a plan like this for years continuing with,

I'm confident this is going to be a win-win for our officers and the community as a whole

I see this as a positive step in the right direction. This is not a message of "we don't need the police" but rather an acknowledgement that some situations require a different kind of response.

If you'd like to read more about police forces and social workers you can do so here.

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