In Why Are the Police in Charge of Road Safety? I argued for unbundling the police:
Don’t use a hammer if you don’t need to pound a nail…the police have no expertise in dealing with the mentally ill or with the homeless–jobs like that should be farmed out to other agencies. Notice that we have lots of other safety issues that are not handled by the police. Restaurant inspectors, for example, do over a million restaurant inspectors annually but they don’t investigate murder or drug charges and they are not armed. Perhaps not coincidentally, restaurant inspectors are not often accused of inspector brutality, “Your honor, I swear I thought he was reaching for a knife….”.
A small experiment was started several years ago in Alexandria, Kentucky.
Faced with a tight budget and rising demands on its 17 officer police department, the City of Alexandria in Campbell County tried something different. Instead of hiring an additional officer and taking on the added expenses of equipping that officer, the police chief at the time hired a social worker to respond in tandem with officers.
Anecdotally the results appear good:
“It was close to a $45,000 to $50,000 annual savings from hiring a police officer the first time to hiring a social worker,” [former Alexandria Police Department chief] Ward said. “They (police social workers) started solving problems for people in our community and for our agency that we’ve never been able to solve before.”
Ward believes the results in Alexandria, a city of less than 10,000, could be replicated in larger cities like Louisville, where officers respond to calls involving mental health, domestic disturbances, and homelessness an average of once every 10 minutes.
“Louisville is very big with services,” Pompilio said. “They have lots of things to offer families. It’s just a matter of a social worker connecting.”
Alexandria doubled down on its commitment and now employs two full-time social workers to work and respond with its 17 officers.
Hat tip: NextDraft.