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Naugatuck Hires Social Worker To Join Police Department

 funeral procession
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public
Police chiefs and officers from Windsor, Hartford and West Hartford take part in a symbolic funeral to eulogize George Floyd at the Connecticut State Capitol on June 3, 2020.

The idea to bring a social worker into the Naugatuck Police Department started with the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, said Mayor Pete Hess.

“We determined that the term ‘defund the police’ really means we have to beef up certain aspects of the police,” Hess said, “and bring in some social workers in situations where they’re more appropriate than a police officer.”

The Criminal Justice Review estimates that police nationwide spend about a fifth of their time responding to crime-related calls. Hess said Naugatuck has been wrestling with issues of racism, including among teenagers on social media. Earlier this year, racist Snapchats by a minor in town led to upheaval and investigations.

The borough brought on three new people as a result, and now a social worker is under contract with the Naugatuck Police Department. Keisha Miller explained how she’ll collaborate with police.

“When they go out and they have a call [from] someone that may be having an issue -- whether it’s substance-related, mental health-related -- they’ll identify in that moment: “OK, this seems to be a case that our social worker could follow up on,” Miller said.

Miller will work 10 hours a week to start, mostly coming in after the initial police interaction. She said the majority of the need in the region is related to mental health or substance abuse.

The new Connecticut Police Accountability law asks municipalities to consider whether their police departments could benefit from hiring a social worker. Miller is expected to work at least a year with the Naugatuck Police Department.

Ali Oshinskie is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. She loves hearing what you thought of her stories or story ideas you have so please email her at aoshinskie@ctpublic.org.

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