ALEXANDRIA, Ky. — Law enforcement agencies across the country are taking notice of a Northern Kentucky police department that employs two police social workers.
The Alexandria Police Department has hired two social workers in the last few years to work in tandem with police officers. The social workers step in to help people with substance use disorders, people with mental health issues and people experiencing homelessness.
The police department has received an increasing number of questions about its model in the months after people across the country protested against racial inequality and the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.
Chief Lucas Cooper said his department gets several emails and calls per week from agencies across the country that are looking for more information on how to start a similar program.
Kelly Pompilio was hired for the role in 2016. At the time, the Alexandria Police Department was the only agency in the state to have a full-time social worker. The department hired a second social worker in 2018.
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Pompilio said she usually follows up with about 70 people each month, and that number has increased since the start of the pandemic.
“With the COVID crisis, our numbers for mental health calls have doubled, almost tripled,” she said.
The model works well, Cooper said, because the social workers have time to connect with people in ways that police officers cannot.
“Officers just don't always have the time for following up with people, making sure that they're going through the steps that they need to,” Cooper said. “Our social workers buy us a lot of time. They have the time to invest in dealing with people and getting them in contact with the people they may need.”
Cooper said the police social workers have not only helped reduce repeat calls for service; the social workers give people a better sense of trust with the police department.
Pompilio said she hopes more police departments implement a similar program. She’s seen the value for the community over the years.
“I feel like they feel their concerns are valued. I feel like they have a connection with the police department, with myself. We’re starting to see a trend where now that they know we exist, they come to the police department and ask for a police social worker,” Pompilio said.