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Connecticut Collaborative Spearheads Statewide Police Social Work Initiative

Police social work interns and police officers pose for a group photo at the inaugural PSW Intern Academy, the primary training program of the Social Work and Law Enforcement Project. Photo by Bonnie Solivan

What started as a pilot internship last year with two Eastern Connecticut State University students has evolved into a statewide collaboration that may well serve as a national model for the emerging field of police social work. The Social Work and Law Enforcement (SWLE) Project, spearheaded by Eastern’s Social Work Program and the Willimantic Police Department, is currently training eight social work students from five universities to work with four police departments across Connecticut.

Not only is it the first such project in the state, but according to Isabel Logan, EdD, LCSW, a professor at Eastern, it is likely the first specialized training program in the country that prepares social workers and police officers to work alongside each other. “Despite police social work being around for decades, this is still a very new area,” Logan says. “To date, there has been no specialized training in this field.”

Until recently, the two professions were often considered diametrically opposed, with social workers and police officers on opposite sides of the justice system. However, public outcry for police reform following high-profile accounts of police brutality—typified by the killing of George Floyd in May 2020—has brought the unlikely partnership back into consideration.

The interns are being trained to accompany officers on nonviolent calls pertaining to mental health, substance abuse, homelessness, and other social issues. They also spend much time making follow-up calls and visits after crisis situations, checking on how people are coping and ensuring that they’re being connected to the necessary social services.

“What we’re trying to do is head off the crisis stage and get them the services they need before a crisis happens,” says Willimantic Police Chief Paul Hussey.

This is work that most police departments aren’t staffed to fulfill, and work that Logan says will lower rates of entry and recidivism into the justice system.

“I’m interested in this field of social work because this is such a rare time when law enforcement is so open and ready to change for the better,” says Connor Pollick, a senior social work major at Eastern who is interning with the Willimantic Police Department. “The recognition from the law enforcement side to ask for help is such a monumental and critical piece of this process. I truly believe this is the time for change and I believe in all the work we are doing with this project.”

Pollick admitted to being hesitant to join the police as an aspiring social worker, but a month into his internship he is pleasantly surprised. “I was not expecting every officer/person to be so open to a social worker coming into their police department,” he says, “but they have been to me and they truly see the purpose/ability a social worker has in a police setting.”

The SWLE Project kicked off this September with the first Police Social Work (PSW) Intern Academy. Organized by Logan and Lt. Matthew Solak of the Willimantic Police Department, the academy involved PSW interns, licensed clinical social workers, law enforcement officers, and university professors who are working to formalize the practice of police social work in Connecticut.

“This initiative could be the next generation of community policing,” says Leah Ralls, president of NAACP, Windham Branch. “It’s a model that lends itself to the humanistic side of policing. In other words, the interaction with the community is not always punitive driven.”

Highlights from the four-day academy included training sessions in safety and de-escalation, as well as roleplay scenarios and presentations by social work and law enforcement experts.

In addition to Eastern, the SWLE Project is training students from Southern Connecticut State University, the University of Saint Joseph, Sacred Heart University, and Fordham University, who in turn are interning with police departments in Willimantic, Norwich, Stamford, and Milford.

“There is a growing movement in Connecticut and around the country of police departments utilizing social workers,” says Steve Wanczk-Karp, LMSW, executive director of NASW, CT Chapter. “The [SWLE Project] is an important addition to this growing field by offering state-of-the-art training on police social work.”

Emily Constantino was a part of the pilot internship in Willimantic last year. Now in the MSW program at the University of Saint Joseph, she is extending her internship with the Willimantic Police Department.

“This particular area of social work has grown into one of my biggest passions,” Constantino says. “If you had told me four years ago that social workers belonged in police departments, I wouldn’t have believed you. So many people associate social work with traditional settings like the Department of Children and Families or schools, and people rarely consider how effective social workers can be when implemented into police departments.”

She continues, “By being a social worker in a police department, I’m able to see how mental illness, substance use, homelessness, poverty, and criminal justice not only affect people on an individual level but how they impact communities as a whole.”

The interns have found—and officers agree—that many 911 calls do not concern criminal activity, but are people simply reaching out for help.

“Sometimes people in the community want to talk to someone who is not a police officer and that’s when we step in,” says Eastern graduate Francelis Gonzalez Perez, a MSW student at Fordham University who is interning with the Norwich Police Department. “The reason I’m interested in police social work is because I get to provide my services to those in need in the community. I like that I can go on ride-alongs and provide crisis interventions.”

— Source: Eastern Connecticut State University


Do Protests Matter? New Study Examines How Protests Bring About Change

Recent protests in the United States over police brutality have attracted much global attention, but many scholars have found that protest alone is not sufficient to bring about policy change. Others have found that protests have a limited impact, such as on media attention or influencing Congressional hearings. So, can protest actually bring about desired outcomes? A recent study by Susan Olzak, PhD, Emerita Professor of Sociology at Stanford University, appearing in the December 2021 issue of American Sociological Review, seeks to answer this question.

Research has shown that since the 1980s, changes in policing may have had the consequence that racial minorities are more likely to be stopped, questioned, or arrested by police and more likely to experience police violence, thus contributing to the deterioration of police-minority relations. Historically, one of the key demands to end police violence has included calls for increased police accountability by instituting civilian review boards (CRBs). The authority of these boards ranges enormously across cities—from making recommendations to the police chief to firing police officers—and demands for more independent and authoritative CRBs to help improve police accountability have been endorsed by policy analysts, activists, and ordinary citizens currently engaging in protest across the United States, including Black Lives Matter and Campaign Zero.

To find out what real impact protest has on policy change and police behaviors, Olzak used information on racial composition, household income, violent crime, residential segregation, and other factors characterizing 170 cities (with populations greater than 100,000). She first designed an event-history dataset to examine the effect of prior protests on the rate of founding a CRB, focusing on the years 1990–2018. The author’s data sources also included reports of protest against police brutality from thousands of local newspapers, which allowed the author to determine whether a given protest focused on a local event or issue, a national or general issue, or an event taking place in another city. In addition to examining whether protest led to establishing a CRB, the author compared the effects of protest and CRB presence on counts of officer-involved fatalities by race and ethnicity, controlling for a number of possibly confounding factors.

The author argued that there are three key mechanisms by which protest facilitates change: signaling, community empowerment, and threats to elites in power. First, protest demonstrates the salience of a movement’s issue and expands awareness that an issue is a social problem requiring a solution. Second, protest empowers residents in disadvantaged communities and raises a sense of community cohesion. Together, these two outcomes raise costs and exert pressure on elites to make concessions in the form of establishing a CRB and/or restraining police use of force.

According to Olzak, “Because protest threatens to raise political and material costs to elites, protest increases the chance that elites will make concessions to protesters’ demands. Furthermore, a high volume of protest raises the visibility and recognition of protester demands, amplifying these costs. This implies that concessions by elites to protester demands will be more likely during peak cycles of protest.” The author analyzes whether protest is systematically related to two types of concessions: establishing a CRB and lowering fatalities of minorities.

So, does protest matter? The author ultimately found that protests influence cities to establish more powerful citizen oversight boards and that they lower fatalities in minority communities. Furthermore, activism targeted to local concerns has a greater chance of success in reducing fatalities of minorities.

But Olzak’s research reminds us that CRBs and other police reforms are no panacea. Fewer than one-half of the 170 cities studied had a CRB by the end of 2018, and most have limited powers. The author suggests that these programs are “under institutionalized, lacking support from police departments and leadership by elites in many cities.” Exploring whether the implementation of these reforms has had a discernible effect on other measures of minority-police relations is a natural next step for future research and may help to increase the legitimacy, and consequently increase the adoption of, such programs and reforms.

The author concludes that “if the adoption of more effective policies restricting the use of force by the police were more widespread, it might be the case that the public (and perhaps also police) would endorse these programs in their own communities. Such acceptance could potentially diminish the high levels of conflict and mistrust that currently exist between minority populations and the police.”

— Source: American Sociological Association


UC Davis, Amazon Partner on Digital Health Equity Innovation

UC Davis Health announces a Cloud Innovation Center (CIC) powered by Amazon Web Services, dedicated furthering the academic medical center’s efforts in digital medicine.

UC Davis Health is the first academic medical center to launch a CIC with Amazon Web Services. Focused on digital health equity, the UC Davis Health CIC will allow clinicians, patients, developers, and students to exchange ideas, as well as design and prototype solutions focused on making digital health more equitable and accessible worldwide.

“Digital health equity has become a front-and-center issue, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says David Lubarsky, MD, MBA, CEO of UC Davis Health. “Many of our underserved communities have struggled even more to receive the care they need, and the digital divide has only widened. We are committed to finding innovative ways to make health care more accessible to every patient, no matter who they are or where they live.”

UC Davis Health and Amazon Web Services will each commit staff to work with clinicians, students, organizations, and the community to define real world challenges around digital health equity through the CIC. The challenges will explore difficult issues around providing equitable care to a diverse patient population. They may address remote patient care, discrepancies in technology used for health care, transportation, or mental health that could be improved to better serve a diversity of patients. Projects will be driven by clinicians, patients, and concerned citizens, who will submit their challenge ideas.

The challenge findings will be published as open source for other interested parties to access, build upon, and implement.

“Many clinicians and patients are mandated to use certain products and services, but they’re often left out of the decision-making process,” says Ashish Atreja, MD, MPH, FACP, AGAF, chief information officer and chief digital officer at UC Davis Health. “Our goal with the UC Davis Health CIC powered by Amazon Web Services is to create a global collaborative community with a mission to leave no patient, clinician, or researcher behind in the digital transformation of health care.”

The CIC is the latest initiative from UC Davis Health to advance digital medicine through its Digital CoLab (Digital Collaborative for Innovation and Validation). Digital CoLab will serve as the liaison between clinicians, researchers, students, and the community to co-ideate, co-create, co-validate, and co-transform digital health solutions. The program is the digital health innovation hub for UC Davis Health and is focused on accelerating digital health technologies to make health care more accessible, equitable, and inclusive.

“We are committed to advancing digital-first and data-driven models of care to continue to provide exceptional patient care and experiences,” says Keisuke Nakagawa, executive director of the UC Davis Health CIC and director of innovation for the Digital CoLab. “Our collaboration with Amazon Web Services will provide us with a tool to unlock the intrapreneurial spirit of our clinicians, patients, and developers in the region to provide a one-of-a-kind space where people who’ve never had a voice in health care will be the ones driving the thinking and innovation.”

— Source: UC Davis Health