Soon after two men forced their way into her house, choked her mother in front of her, and put a gun inside the woman’s mouth, Shamika Richardson was answering questions from police about her education plans, access to transportation, child care and career aspirations.
The 19-year-old seemed bewildered by the visit from St. Louis officers who were accompanied by volunteer community health workers interested in connecting her with social services.
Richardson was the first of a handful of calls for service featuring a police Mobile Crisis Prevention Team that included volunteers eager to provide crime victims with access to help, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The idea of pairing officers with the volunteers is modeled after New Haven, Ct.’s Child Development Community Policing program.
Similar programs partnering police with mental health workers have been developed in other cities across the U.S.
Police Capt. Perri Johnson said it will take time to determine the effectiveness of the partnership with the social workers.
“We want to focus on the social issues before they become criminal issues,” Johnson said.
City leaders began looking for programs like the New Haven model after the U.S. Department of Justice reviewed the police department’s policies and procedures following the Ferguson protests and recommended community engagement programs, said Wilford Pinkney of the city’s Office of Children, Youth and Families.
Mayor Lyda Krewson appointed Pinkney, a 20-year veteran of the New York City police department. He believes police officers play the role of a social worker in a sense, but are trained mainly to recognize mental health issues and how to de-escalate situations.
“This program addresses the root causes of crime,” Pinkney said. “A lot of a person’s actions are dictated by a lack of stability. That’s why the first goal has to be connecting people to the services they need.”