LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The city’s settlement with Breonna Taylor’s family includes several police reforms. The addition of social workers to support police officers and encouraging officers to volunteer in the communities they patrol are among the new reforms announced by Mayor Greg Fischer’s office. While it will take some time, city leaders and experts believe those two reforms, if done right, could make a real and positive change for police and for the community.
“It’s very hard to have interactions when you’re running from run, to run, to run,” said Yvette Gentry, interim chief of the Louisville Metro Police Department.
Gentry, a live guest on WAVE 3 News Wednesday, was talking about the reform that will encourage officers to volunteer two of their paid hours - per pay period - in the district they patrol, giving them more time to establish those bonds with people. The interim LMPD chief said getting involved is about rebuilding relationships.
Getting the community to trust the police and getting officers willing to engage again. It’s wanted. We’ve already seen posts on social media like one from Friends of Eastern Cemetery, welcoming LMPD officers to come their way and use their volunteer hours with the group.
“We need meaningful engagement,” said Jay Miller, Dean of the College of Social Work at the University of Kentucky.
Miller is drafting a letter to LMPD to bring that same message about adding social workers to the department. He says the licensed social workers the department hires, must be respected and their practices and ethics can’t be compromised.
“If the arrangement, if having social workers involved is going to be fruitful, you have to let social workers do social work,” Miller continued, “they’re not standing in place of police officers, it’s a completely different thing, so we need to create the space to allow social workers to do what it is they do.”
Miller also suggested looking to other cities that have already added social workers to police departments.
Miller, who spent several years working alongside LMPD detectives at the Crimes Against Children Unit, said the social worker’s expertise helps officers and those in crisis.
“I think many police officers will tell you, that some of the challenges or instances they’re dealing with are not criminal,” Miller said. “We shouldn’t criminalize being homeless or substance misuse.”
The interim chief agreed. Gentry said while officers have had some great outcomes in crisis intervention, it’s just not where their experience should be focused.
“I don’t think people realize how irrational it is to have law enforcement doing things they are not trained to do,” Gentry said, “and we’ve been settling to do that for over 20 years.”
According to a spokeswoman for Mayor Greg Fischer’s office, the number of social workers being added to LMPD hasn’t been determined yet as plans are still being developed.
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