Rantz: Social worker program to supplement cops is a worthy idea from Black Lives Matter
Pushing aside the dangerous spectacle CHOP has become, a good idea has emerged from the Black Lives Matter protests locally and nationally: some kind of social worker embedded program.
The social worker would work on cases where individuals are dealing with trauma and do not necessarily need to face arrest. It’s one of the positive ideas to come out of the peaceful side of the movement and it’s worth exploring.
Social worker embedded program
A couple weekends ago, as I was monitoring one of the protests, I heard on the police scanner a naked man was running around a Seattle neighborhood and the police were called. He didn’t have any weapon and was likely dealing with a mental health crisis. I don’t know many Seattle police officers who would want to deal with that call.
It’s not that cops can’t help. It’s that they can only do so much. The man would likely have to be arrested and when you arrest anyone, the situation becomes tense and possibly dangerous. And an officer will rightly protect themselves or the public from a man who becomes dangerous.
So how can we make a social worker embedded program work? On paper, the idea coming from Black Lives Matter and others sounds like a great idea. In practice, it seems more difficult.
The details seem murky
Using the naked-man-in-trauma as an example, it seems like this would qualify for a mental health counselor trained in de-escalating situations like this. But do you send that person alone or with a cop?
In the most rigid view from some activists, the whole idea of having an officer on scene is unnecessarily escalating a situation. People act differently in front of cops. But is it safe to send out a social worker alone, without the ability to protect oneself, if the person becomes violent? An officer will still have to play a role to help protect the social worker against someone who might be able to overpower the worker.
I imagine the social worker will be reluctant to have an officer step in. So who makes the decision? I can envision a trained officer, with a lot of experience in the field, wanting to move in to protect the social worker from someone dealing with trauma.
When that officer moves in, will the social worker try to stop it? And if it gets recorded on body-cam, will that video be weaponized to attack an officer who is using his or her best judgment on when to get involved?
But if the officer gives too much leeway to the social worker to do their job, what if they act too late and the worker is seriously injured? Won’t body-cam footage also be used to attack the officer or even the embedded worker program unfairly?
And speaking of body-cam footage: Should it be on when dealing with someone clearly in a mental health crisis? If so, is there a way to blur out the face of the “patient” upon release of the footage so that we can respect the privacy of someone dealing with a medical issue? Is that legal?
So how do we make this work?
There are a lot of questions on the social worker embedded program idea. I want it to work. But I fear that many activists aren’t working with the city on ways to make this good Black Lives Matter idea a reality.
Last week, on Juneteenth, activist Andre Taylor told the media he wanted the speeches to be, at least in part, educational. That marching is obviously symbolically important but can ultimately feel like nothing was accomplished when you’re done with the walk. Indeed, too many people think posting a meme on Instagram is a way to enact social change. So what do you do when you’re done marching?
It feels like we have an opportunity, regardless of politics, to get behind a potentially good idea. And it doesn’t feel like it has momentum. The media is rightly focused on the public safety dangers of what CHOP has become. And you have politicians like socialist Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant pushing the Black Lives Matter toward an Amazon tax.
How about we focus on an idea that probably has little resistance from all sides of the issue? I’m not going to get behind “defunding” or abolishing the police; it’s a dangerous and untenable position. In fact, I’d argue a plan like this requires more funding, certainly short term.
But if the goal is unity, and less division, why not start with ironing out details on a plan in a way that purposefully includes ideological diversity? I would love to contribute and I bet police would, too.
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