Fayetteville Police Dept. to hire social workers for crisis response


"We're trying to expand the services where the community has a need and we've recognized this need and I think it just speaks volumes of what kind of police department the community has here in Fayetteville," Police Chief Mike Reynolds said.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The Fayetteville Police Department will add two social workers to its police force.

On Tuesday, November 16, Fayetteville city council members voted to accept a $250,000 Department of Justice grant to pay for the new positions over a two year period.

The grant is specifically geared towards imbedding social workers with law enforcement for a dual response model.

The Fayetteville Police Department was one of 33 in the nation to receive it.

Police Chief Mike Reynolds said over the last few years the department has seen an increase in call volume specifically related to people battling mental health crises, suicidal ideations and homelessness, typically non-criminal in nature.

“A lot of these folks, they’re committing a victimless crime, maybe a very minor crime that they’re committing, and that’s not the underlying reason for what they’re doing or why they’re committing that crime,” Reynolds said. “If we can get to the root of that and we solve that then we solve recidivism, we solve them being put in to the local county jail and tying up our resources and tying up our officers.”

In January 2021 Fayetteville PD launched a partnership with the University of Arkansas School of Social Work to explore the potential a dual response model.

Two interns are currently in the program. One is Steven Greathouse, who’s in the final year of the two year masters level social work program at UA.

“Having social work in community policing really provides an interdisciplinary approach,” Greathouse said.

Much of what he’s done as an intern has centered around developing the program that will guide how the social workers will respond to crises.

Chief Reynolds said once hired, each social worker will be paired with a Crisis Intervention Trained officer to create a Crisis Intervention Team.

Together they’ll respond to calls ranging from homelessness, to substance abuse, to mental health issues.

Dispatchers will be at the core of this type of response, according to Reynolds.

“When our dispatch receives that call, they’ll categorize the specific call that the social workers would go on with the officers,” he said.

Once on scene, the officer will make contact with the person in crisis and then introduce the social worker.

“If you have a call of someone that’s battling schizophrenia, it’s not something that we as officers with a 40 hour course are adequately trained to go out and provide those acute services that individual may need, but a social worker… may have have connections to provide long acute services that could help this individual,” Reynolds said.

Greathouse said, “law enforcement officers are able to focus on the safety of a situation and a lot of those environmental factors, a social worker’s going to be able to focus on some of the more in depth mental health pieces.”

The social worker will also be tasked with connecting a person in crisis with necessary community resources, but also with checking back in with them.

This is something Greathouse has seen officers struggle with firsthand due to high call volumes.

“Before they’re able to follow-up and talk to people again to see how everything’s going they’re already responding to another call or they’re just so overloaded with all the crises that’re happening in the community that they’re not able to provide that follow-up,” he said.

Interns will also continue to help with this key step. With only two full-time Crisis Intervention Teams being created, there will be calls that they won’t be able to respond to based on volume and time of day.

“I predict it would probably take seven social workers and seven crisis intervention trained officers to provide 24/7, 365 day coverage,” Reynolds said.

Before adding even more social workers to his staff, the chief wants to make sure the program is doing what’s intended.

Reducing workload and stress on officers, providing important resources to those in crisis, and reducing recidivism and incarceration are just a few of the goals he wants to see come from it.

Reynolds said, “our ultimate goal is to save lives or to improve lives and that’s what I hope this program provides to our community.”

Because the social worker positions are only funded through the DOJ grant for two years, Reynolds is treating it like a pilot program.

If it proves to be successful, Reynolds said the department will have to ask the city council for budgeted funds to keep it around and potentially expand it.

He hopes to have the social workers hired and in place by late spring or early summer 2022.

The chief said an ideal candidate would be someone who is a masters-level social worker who understands the challenges of the Fayetteville community.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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