Social Workers address crises regularly and without an armed police officer standing in front of us. Often, the presence of an armed officer escalates a crisis that could have been better handled by mental health professionals alone.
This commentary is part of our Discourse series. Discourse is a collaboration between The Appeal, The Justice Collaborative Institute, and Data For Progress. Its mission is to provide expert commentary and rigorous, pragmatic research especially for public officials, reporters, advocates, and scholars. The Appeal and The Justice Collaborative Institute are editorially independent projects of The Justice Collaborative.
The uprisings taking place across the nation and the world have brought unprecedented attention to police brutality, not as an abnormality, but as the building block of an institution that all too often relies on violence at the expense of community safety. It has led people around the country to call for reallocating funds from law enforcement to social work professionals, peer specialists, and other mental and medical health experts. This move would put people who have knowledge, values, and skills that have proven more effective in responding to issues that police officers are not trained to handle—including homelessness, mental health concerns, domestic violence, and others—in the position to help their communities.
Even as many are making an effort to advance these non-policing strategies, others are attempting to keep law enforcement as an essential part of responding to these issues—an approach that is fundamentally at odds with a human centered lens. As social workers required to support social justice for individuals and communities as part of our practice and in accordance with our ethical standards, we refuse to be used as a political tool to slow or stop the much needed calls for defunding or abolishing our current policing system.