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Jeffersontown police to hire more social workers, chief says they are not replacing officers

Published: Jun. 25, 2021 at 3:53 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 25, 2021 at 6:55 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - It wasn’t that long ago that it was considered a radical idea in some circles to hire social workers to reduce crime instead of hiring more police officers.

Jeffersontown Police Chief Rick Sanders said he is used to the criticism.

”A lot of people look at me as a 40-year police officer and think I’ve gone soft,” Sanders said. “You know, I haven’t. I’ve just gotten smarter.”

Jeffersontown police will soon hire two new social workers, tripling the number currently working for the department. The one it has now has only been on the job for a year.

Sanders said she has already assisted 495 crime victims and more than 70 drug addicts in need of social services.

“We’re really good at going in and triaging the situation and defusing the violent behavior,” Sanders said. “But we’re not trained to get those victims help from social services like a social worker is. So I want to be perfectly clear, social workers will not replace the police. We will continue to make the runs and make the scene safe.”

Jeffersontown is following a model pioneered by the police department in Alexandria, in northern Kentucky. Former Alexandria Chief Mike Ward hired social workers with surprising results.

”They started solving problems for people in our community and for our agency that we’ve never been able to solve before,” Ward told WAVE 3 News last year. He said social workers reduced the number of repeat 911 calls into the department, and fewer people landed in jail. The city also saved money.

”It was close to a 45-to-50 thousand dollar annual savings from hiring a police officer the first time to hiring a social worker,” Ward said.

The last time Jeffersontown police hired a social worker, the position was advertised as paying between $45,000 and $55,000 a year. Sanders said he expects similar cost savings and similar results when it comes to crime.

“But more importantly,” Sanders said, “I think it’s giving the people of this community the help that they need.”

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