Recommendations on Reforms to Policing in Connecticut Revised Version 06/24/20

On behalf of the National Association of Social Workers, Connecticut Chapter we thank

Governor Lamont, the Judiciary Committee, and the full CT Legislature for taking up the critically important work of rethinking how policing is performed in our state. This is a discussion that is long overdue and NASW/CT wants to be a partner in deliberations. We offer the following comments and recommendations as an initial response and look forward to engaging with the Committee on how best to move forward in making policing safer and more effective for all of our state’s residents, not just those who are male, white and privileged.

Police are not social workers. This may seem an obvious statement but it begs the question why are we dispatching police officers in response to situations that call for a social work intervention? Issues of drug use, homelessness, mental illness, non-violent domestic disputes, landlord/tenant disagreements and related social service issues too frequently lead to police responses. Tragically, as we have seen over and over, these calls lead to escalation instead of peaceful resolution and particularly when persons of color are involved harmful outcomes. If this were not the case, we would not be having calls for defunding the police and police reforms.

Recommendations on the Use of Social Workers

Calls to 911 need to be accessed as to who is the most appropriate responder. For calls related to social needs there needs to be a unit populated by social workers and related professionals that can be the first responder. Albuquerque, New Mexico has formed a separate department on community safety that is a model to consider. Likewise, Eugene Oregon has a well established program, Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets that is a mobile crisis unit handling certain calls that previously were handled by police. This can lead to improved outcomes at potentially a lower financial cost, and definitely a reduced cost to personal safety. One possible approach is to have a separate body, perhaps a non-profit or public agency that is separate from the police department to handle specific calls for assistance that currently are responder to by police.

Police departments should consider employing social workers to work along law enforcement officers as teams that can respond together in cases where it is appropriate to have both an officer and social worker on the scene. This is a proven model in geriatrics and certain health care services where a nurse and a social worker deliver services together, with the nurse providing medical knowledge and the social worker psychosocial functions. In such an arrangement systems would need to be put in place to assure the social worker had the independence to work in accordance with the NASW Code of Ethics.

Critical incident debriefings should include the presence of a licensed social worker. Likewise, having licensed social workers employed by police departments will offer officers a colleague to turn to for consultation on mental health and social service matters that officers encounter in their work. The best learning often happens through informal communications that a social worker can facilitate.  

Culture change needs to take place in police departments so that officers are willing to come forward and seek counseling when the nature of their work negatively impacts on their practice. The need for mental health supports are critical to helping law enforcement personnel deal with the events of their profession. Police administrations must set an example by encouraging officers to seek confidential mental health support, without the officer fearing a derailing of their career. Social workers, as the largest provider of mental health services in Connecticut can assist in the provision of such care.

Social workers can be the agents of change that help embrace the cultural changes necessary in police departments. That is not to say that the introduction of social workers into police work will by itself solve the current problems that have led to the Black Lives Matter movement. Communities must come together, empower those persons who have been oppressed and discriminated against, and build police systems that work with and for all persons. Social workers, trained in social justice, is a starting point to community building. Ultimately, it is the community that must decide how their police department is to function and to what roles social workers should play.   

Police Hiring and Training

The hiring process for police officers must be rigorous in terms of assessing the psychological suitedness of candidates to perform the job safely. Included in such screening must be an assessment of biases that may be cause for denial of hiring. Following hire and placement in a department all officers should be assessed annually as to their continued suitability for law enforcement work, or upon incidents that call for immediate assessment. When it is determined that an officer is not suited for active assignments in the community alternative assignments in the department may be an option, assistance in attaining therapy may allow for return to work, or removal from employment when reassignment and treatment is not agreed upon or successful. CT must create a state-wide database of officers who have been terminated due to violent behavior or otherwise unsuitable actions to assure such officers are not re-employed in law enforcement in a different community.

Training should begin at the Police Academy to include a total of 30 hours course work on Race, Gender, Religion, and Social Classism in America. Upon completion of the Academy training must be an ongoing process throughout an officer’s career. Diversity and cultural competency training are essential and cannot be a “one and done” process because that’s a joke. We’re talking about dismantling generational, institutional oppression and white supremacy. So, diversity and inclusion training must be institutionalized so it happens regularly, taught by social workers and professionals outside of the police departments. Our social/political/ethnic landscape changes and police need training to be kept abreast of the communities they serve and their unique differences. That training also needs to thoroughly cover white supremacy and privilege because there’s so much resistance around exploring that area, which is actually privilege in action. Another part of that training should provide a historical overview of policing from its origins and its impact on black and brown communities. The broken relationship between black people and police is not new.

Given that police are called upon to interact with persons with mental health illnesses, training on identification of mental health conditions is necessary. We do not expect police to become mental health experts but they need a basic understanding of how to address a person with mental illness. Such encounters call for a social worker or other licensed mental health professional to be brought onto the scene.

Anti-racism training is another essential component in any police training program. It would make sense for the Police Academy to partner with a non-profit that specializes in anti-racism training.

De-escalation training is also an essential component in police training. Such trainings should be required periodically throughout police officers’ career.

Training alone is not sufficient however to help officers to be able to practice safely. We must keep in mind that police work is highly stressful, can be anxiety provoking and at times down right dangerous. Police departments need to incorporate mindfulness programs into the daily routine of officers. This should be part of an overall health and mental health wellness program that can be tied into an officer’s career advancement.

Schools and Police

School safety is understandably of significant concern to communities. Part of school safety is assuring that students with mental health needs receive the services necessary to allow them to be successful within the classroom and educational system. School social workers are a key element to school success for such students, especially at this time of the Covid-19 pandemic. School social workers are the one profession employed by a school system that has a primary responsibility for connecting parents and family to the school. Every school in Connecticut should have school social workers. NASW calls for a ratio of 1 school social worker for every 250 students. One way to achieve having sufficient mental health services in schools is to replace school resource officers with school social workers. Such a reallocation of funds will directly benefit students and at the same time free up school resource officers to perform other police functions that they are best prepared for.

Reallocation of Funding

A comprehensive assessment of the allocation each municipality and state government provide to police departments is a necessary first step in determining what the level of funding should be for police departments. A redirecting of first responders from police to social workers is a good initial step in reallocation of funds. The demilitarization of police departments is an excellent step as resources have gone into utilization of surplus military equipment that is appropriate for warfare, but not for policing in our communities. Reallocation of funding must go into community based social services care. Funds spent on violence prevention, fighting homelessness, delivering mental health services and preventative public health measures will strengthen communities and in the long run reduce the amount of active policing required. Such reallocation must include maximum involvement of residents of each community to assure that funds are utilized in ways that the community supports.

Going Beyond Police Reform

At this moment in time the Judiciary Committee and the CT Legislature as a whole can take steps that will improve the lives of inmates and parolees in ways that will reduce recidivism and in turn reduce police involvement. Persons of color are over-represented in our correctional facilities (41% of inmates in 2015 were Blacks) and post-incarceration largely due to a racist judicial system where white privilege is very much in display. To address police reforms without correctional reforms is at best doing half a job and is negligence of policy makers. We urge the CT Legislature to take, at minimum, the following steps during special session.

  1. Eliminate solitary confinement of inmates. Such confinement is cruel and psychologically damaging.
  2. Allow all inmates eligibility to vote. Taking away one’s right to vote is not conducive to developing good citizenship.
  3. Allow parolees eligibility to vote. Again, if we expect formerly incarcerated persons to successfully re-enter into the community, we must give them the right to vote.
  4. Advance Clean Slate measures and address discrimination that post-incarcerated persons experience in housing and employment.

NASW/CT supports the Governor’s Executive Order # 8: Police Use of Force and Accountability. It is a starting point but not a solution, as it addresses the symptoms of an oppressive and racist system, without getting at causation. Real change must come from dialogue and full involvement of those most affected by our broken law enforcement systems. NASW/CT encourages community wide involvement in finding meaningful solutions. This must include voting reforms that allow for mail in balloting and a change in the states’ constitution so as to make voting more readily possible. Connecticut has the most restrictive voting rules in the nation.  Only by fully engaging our state’s residents through empowerment measures that include accessible voting can we make progress toward a more inclusive society.

We see this position paper as a starting point for discussion and look forward to the evolving dialogue on police accountability, reform and restructuring of public systems to better address the social care needs of Connecticut’s residents.

For more information contact Stephen Wanczyk-Karp, LMSW at


  1. Amber Kelly says

    Open Letter to NASW-CT and Connecticut Social Workers Regarding the ‘Chapter Position Paper on Police Reform and Social Work’

    Recently, the Connecticut Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers released a ‘Chapter Position Paper on Police Reform and Social Work’ (1). While we recognize the need for this conversation, as licensed Social Workers in the state of Connecticut working in educational, clinical, and community settings, we reject the recommendation to push for Social Workers being hired in police departments around the country.

    NASW-CT is the voice of professional Social Work in the state of Connecticut. As such, we believe that it is imperative that this body call on our membership to challenge systems of oppression, not find ways to join them. In this same vein, recommendations for changes and divestment should also challenge these systems, rather than uphold them. Laura Abrams, Chair and Professor of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, and Alan Dettlaff, Dean of the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, provide a clear rationale for resisting the call to integrate social workers within police departments and outline clear action steps for those in leadership positions within our profession in a recent open letter of concern to NASW (2).

    At this socio-historical moment, it is time to question society’s dependence on police departments to dealing with social problems, not a time to pour more resources into and expand policing. We doubt communities historically most impacted by police violence would have trust in these Social Workers, and likely for good reason. There is precedence to show that when Social Workers become a part of unjust systems, they often become another unit of complicit social control, rather than advocates for change (3).

    Social Workers find themselves in the position of having to choose whether to maintain employment or challenge the systems in which they work, becoming less likely to speak out and advocate for changes within these systems. Examples include Japanese internment camps(4), prisons and criminal “justice” systems (5), immigration processes (6), child protection systems (7), court-mandated substance abuse treatment (8), etc.

    We need new systems to deal with community problems, not just for serving basic needs, but also to empower communities to have agency in their own lives. During this historical moment, rather than reinforce systems of injustice, it is time that we lean on our profession’s long history of organizing with people directly impacted by injustice for social, political, and economic justice. Today the Black Lives Matter movement asks us to join us in the struggle against anti-black racism and police violence, which includes divestment from policing; Social Workers should take this seriously and heed the call. Anything else would be tone deaf and from the belief that we know more about what communities need than they do. Instead, we call on NASW-CT to heed the call within our profession, including the endorsement of the demands of the Movement for Black Lives (9), which include the following:

    *Divest from surveillance, policing, mass criminalization, incarceration, and deportation.
    *Invest in making communities stronger and safer through quality, affordable housing, living wage employment, public transportation, education, and health care that includes voluntary, harm reduction and patient-driven, community-based mental health and substance abuse treatment.
    *Invest in community-based transformative violence prevention and intervention strategies, that offer support for criminalized populations
    *Uncouple access to services, care, and support from the criminal punishment system.
    *Provide reparations to survivors of police violence and their families, and to survivors of prison, detention and deportation violence, and their families.

    In addition to endorsement of these demands, we call on NASW-CT to begin a meaningful conversation across the state on how we can have a significant impact on divestment from policing and organizing for healthier communities. This may include conversations hosted by NASW-CT with those directly impacted by police and community violence and the Governor and Mayors to discuss the creation of other systems and solutions to deal with community problems. It is our belief that Connecticut Social Workers should act in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement’s push to divest from policing and to reinvest in “communities and the resources to ensure Black people not only survive, but thrive” (10).

    In Solidarity,

    Amber Kelly, PhD, MSW, LCSW
    Assistant Professor of Social Work
    Quinnipiac University

    Emily McCave, PhD, MSW, LMSW
    Associate Professor of Social Work
    Quinnipiac University.



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