Fairfield Police are looking to hire a social worker

FAIRFIELD – The police will soon have a registered clinical social worker embedded in the department to work with the Crisis Response Team and the Juvenile Review Board.

The position became a reality after the Finance Council recently approved a range of $71,000 to $98,000 for the new role.

First coach Brenda Kupchick said the department has been sounding the alarm for a few years about the lack of support for young people who have committed crimes at Fairfield. She said the city’s director of social services, Julie DeMarco, and the officers asked the city to fund a certified clinical social worker position with the police department.

“That seemed like a very important item to ask,” she said. “Obviously we have young people at risk who need extra help. We have people with mental health issues who need services.”

Police Captain Edward Weihe said he was pushing for the department to hire a social worker because of his work with the department’s crisis intervention program – one of the services he oversees in the part of the department’s field service office.

“The Fairfield Police Department proposes that there are multiple benefits to the agency, mental health consumers and the community at large by employing a full-time licensed clinical social worker paid and supervised by the City of Fairfield and the Fairfield Police Department,” he said. “These benefits include increased services to the City of Fairfield, particularly in the areas of mental health and addictions services.”

Weihe said the primary goal is to increase residents’ access to mental health or addictions services, which should ideally lead to better resolution of mental health calls the department receives.

He said it would also create long-term benefits, including reduced frequency and intensity of behavioral incidents, fewer incidents for repeat callers, reduced risk of injury for all people involved and bystanders, minimizing use of force incidents and minimizing the potential for police and city liability.

Weihe said the crisis response team was established in 2011 and gained national recognition as a progressive approach. He said discussions about hiring a social worker had taken place as early as 2012.

“It wasn’t a popular idea at the time, and it didn’t gain popularity,” he said. “However, we have adapted by partnering closely with local mental health agencies and facilitating their ability to support CIT officers in the field. from the city.”

Weihe noted that the Police Accountability Bill, which was passed in 2020 following the George Floyd protests, requires police departments to assess the benefits of having a social worker in the field. He said the Fairfield Police Department has been doing this for several years and has seen the overall positive benefits of partnering with local mental health agencies.

“However, with the dramatic increase in calls for mental health services, our past and current practices of intermittently borrowing a mobile crisis clinician from one of our community partners has not adequately met our objectives and our obligations to the accountability bill and to the community,” he said. , noting that nearby police departments already employ social workers.

Fairfield Police received 44 calls for mental health services in 2017, which steadily increased to 447 for 2022 as of last week. Weihe said a lot of that has to do with the department’s ability to identify and track these types of incidents.

While the crisis response team is trained to recognize signs of different types of mental health disorders, Weihe said, members lack the skills to make a diagnosis, which can impact the department’s ability to recognize it as a mental health call.

Wiehe said existing programs, including the Fairfield Police Department’s Behavioral Health Network, Juvenile Review Board and CIT, could be better leveraged if a social worker was there to coordinate and oversee them.

Detective Beth Leetch said the social worker would be involved in the process of arresting minors, whether it’s helping find resources, weighing in on consequences or referrals or following the child and family.

She said the state has made huge efforts to decriminalize juvenile crimes, and more and more arrests of young people are being thrown out of court and returned to the community for services.

“They are becoming more and more community-oriented,” she said. “They don’t want to see kids locked up. COVID has really launched juvenile delinquency as a mental health issue.”

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