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Helping Law Enforcement the Social Work Way

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One story that is trending on news and social media is that of a law enforcement officer who drew his gun on unarmed teenagers.  The same officer was videotaped ordering teenagers to lie on the ground and was viewed physically holding a teenage girl on the ground.  The teenagers were reportedly at a neighborhood pool when an incident occurred and law enforcement was called.

It should be noted that not all of the officers approached the incident in the same manner.  Another officer was videotaped calmly but assertively asking several youngsters about the incident.  His questioning was interrupted by the officer, who eventually drew his weapon.

Comments and opinions on the blogosphere regarding this current event are emotionally charged.  They clearly show biases that originate from the writers’ life experiences and beliefs.  These opinions are often framed in combative ‘them versus us’ tones.  If one expresses concern for the law enforcement officer, another opinion will refute its validity and claim concern for the alleged victims.  If one expresses concern for the victims, another writer will invalidate the comment and express full support for all actions, good, bad, or indifferent by the law enforcement officer.

Unfortunately, these comments do not solve the problem and do not address the needs of the victims or law enforcement officers.

Law enforcement officers and first responders have been found to have a higher incidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) than the general population. In the article “What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” author Pamela Kulbarsh, R.N. wrote that the prevalence of PTSD ranges from 4-14% among law enforcement officers.  Many articles state that an exact number is difficult to obtain due to underreporting.

Law enforcement officers are repeatedly exposed to threats of death and actual death.  They are expected to make split second decisions that could result in major injuries or loss of life.  Officers are sent to situations with cursory information and expected to provide appropriate solutions.  Gary G. Felt, MA, MHC expounds on this concern in the article “The Relationship of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to Law Enforcement: The Importance of Education.”

Social workers and mental health workers understand that individuals who experience PTSD symptoms may believe they are under constant threat particularly in situations that are similar to other trauma related experiences.  They may display demonstrate irritability, anger and aggression with little to no provocation.

These events provide opportunity for social work professionals to provide solutions using their knowledge and expertise of social work practice.  Professional social workers, who are entrepreneurial minded, should also view these incidents as opportunities for career growth and advancement as well.

Social workers can provide law enforcement officers with solutions and training to avert the appearance of being overly aggressive, unyielding and unreasonable.  Social workers can also provide strategies that will enable law enforcement professionals to do their jobs while providing them with substantive protection.

Social workers use social work methods and strategies.  Solution enabling strategies include:

Developing appropriate responses to problems based on client needs.

Creatively combining knowledge, values and skills to gain understanding and build relationships.

Respecting and facilitating healthy interactions among individuals, groups and environments.

Assessing, planning, implementing, and evaluating work at every level.

A partnership between social work and law enforcement will create and promote an environment of support and safety for law enforcement officers and the community at large.

Marcyline L. Bailey is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Certified School Social Worker, Employee Assistance Specialist - Clinical and a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers.  Mrs. Bailey has over 20 years of experience as a professional social worker. She shares the questions social workers should ask to boost their career opportunities and income. She is the author of Five SMART Questions Social Workers should Ask (if they want to boost their social work income.) For more information www.happyhalfhour.club and www.forrealsocialworkers.com

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