Strengthening IDENTITY | Preserving INTEGRITY | Advocating PARITY
The Clinical Social Work Association offers the following comments on the President’s recently signed Executive Order.
The overall intent of the Executive Order is to develop a federal approach to eliminate misuse of authority by police, as printed in Section 1: “Unfortunately, there have been instances in which some officers have misused their authority, challenging the trust of the American people, with tragic consequences for individual victims, their communities, and our Nation.” CSWA supports the attempt to resolve the pervasive problem of overuse of force but notes that the Executive Order neither acknowledges the systemic racism that leads to the misuse of authority, nor does it provide a plan of action for enforcing needed change. To be clear, CSWA sees the Executive Order as a work in progress, and, as such, finds two of its main goals worthy of serious consideration.
Section 3 of the Executive Order focuses on information sharing: “The Attorney General shall create a database to coordinate the sharing of information between and among Federal, State, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement agencies concerning instances of excessive use of force related to law enforcement matters, accounting for applicable privacy and due process rights”. Such a database would potentially provide critical information for targeting problems to be addressed at the local level through required regular public reports.
Section 4 would take steps to provide additional mental health and social services to citizens who have mental health and social needs that the police are currently encounter: “Since the mid-twentieth century, America has witnessed a reduction in targeted mental health treatment…As a society, we must take steps to safely and humanely care for those who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse in a manner that addresses such individuals’ needs and the needs of their communities.” As clinical social workers, we applaud promotion at the federal level of the use of appropriate mental health and social services as the primary response to individuals who suffer from impaired mental health, addiction, and homelessness. At this time, law enforcement does not offer expert training in mental health treatment or in providing complex social services. Because the police have been increasingly asked to respond to these cases, the result is uncounted wrongful incarcerations and deaths, as noted in the Executive Order.
CSWA supports the concept of clinical social workers and law enforcement officers working as “co-responders” to address emotional distress and work to prevent wrongful deaths and incarceration. Indeed, at the local level, clinical social workers speak of successful examples of such partnerships: in protective services; on domestic violence calls; on Mental Health Crisis Teams; in prison settings; and more. Such a pairing tempers the law officer’s militarized tactics, and, as one clinical social worker said, is what “brings a thoughtful calm to the crisis situation.”
A major barrier to the approach promulgated in the Executive Order is the exponential growth of funding for law enforcement, with emphasis on “warrior” attitudes and militarization, while at the same time there has been a concomitant defunding of mental health treatment and social services. Little discussion of common interests and how to work together has taken place. We strongly believe that any integration of the services provided by law enforcement and clinical social work will need mutual oversight by both Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services, with more balanced funding, mutually determined by these agencies.
Having a more nuanced view of what behavior constitutes real danger and what behavior is an expression of unmet social needs has not been part of the law enforcement mindset, and CSWA would like to have an in-depth national discussion about how to facilitate this change. Clinical social workers can offer expertise in helping create the changes that will help minimize over-zealous law enforcement by using our knowledge of deescalating potentially dangerous situations through access to mental health and social service care. We welcome a forum for creating true integration of what law enforcement and clinical social work can provide.
Britni Brown, LCSW, President
Laura Groshong, LICSW, Director of Policy and Practice
Margot Aronson, LICSW, Deputy Director of Policy and Practice
PO Box 10Garrisonville, Virginia 22463