The Madison Police Department is developing a pilot program with the University of New Haven to arrange for graduate students in the school’s licensed professional counseling program to accompany officers on calls when a social worker is needed.
“I think the next generation of police officers is going to be somebody, he or she, who involves themselves with a social services background, maybe in college,” Madison Police Chief Jack Drumm said during a meeting of the town’s Board of Police Commissioners on April 8.
The program comes in response to a mandate in the police accountability bill passed by the state legislature last July. The law requires police departments to consider having social workers respond to or accompany police officers on calls for assistance.
Drumm said that he spoke with the university’s graduate school of psychology about having two or three students in the practical phase of their program complete an internship with the department.
Ed Dowling, Chair of the Police Commission, supported the idea.
“I think this is the future that is coming out of this whole greater law enforcement awareness,” he said. “When we hear about someone being arrested 11 times or 12 times, and you realize this is not a career criminal, this is someone who’s got extraordinary mental health issues, and that the solution that has been tried so far is call 911, get the police and arrest them again — that process is not working.”
Scott Cochran, director of the Department of Youth and Family Services, told CT Examiner that the town and university were at the very beginning stages of formulating the program, and that they weren’t yet sure exactly how the program would work. But Cochran said they were excited about the idea, and his department would supervise the graduate students.
“I think it’s exciting and great and a needed opportunity,” he said.
Capt. Joseph Race told CT Examiner that the department was still determining the best situations when the students could work with police officers. Race said there were many situations when having a social worker could be helpful — when they had to notify people about injuries or deaths, for example, or when they needed to interact with victims.
“There’s a lot of potential for other areas where a licensed professional counselor could be very beneficial to our mission as well,” he said.
Race said the most important thing was going to be making sure that the students could safely accompany the officers on their calls, and figure out how they can get the most out of the placement.
“It’s exciting. Right now we have a blank canvas,” he added.
Drumm said at the meeting that they would probably need to pay a stipend to people at the Department of Youth Services who would be supervising the students. Race said they would also need to pay the students an hourly rate, since they would be doing “a tremendous amount of work.”
Drumm said the police department would be meeting with the university on a regular basis to develop the program, and that he would return as soon as possible with cost estimates. But Drumm said he thought the cost would be minimal.
“We’re not going to have a choice here, we’re going to have to address it one way or another,” he said, referring to the police accountability legislation.
First Selectwoman Peggy Lyons said at the meeting she was enthusiastic about the idea.
“We’re fortunate that we have that kind of resource in the mental health area, with our town.” said Lyons. “I think it’s a great idea … I think this will be a learning process for the entire state.”