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Police Assisted Referral program embraces community policing
A few months ago, a Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) police officer was called to the home of a young couple after a neighbor called the police, hearing yelling and fighting. When the officer arrived at the couple’s apartment, he saw that the woman was very upset and had physically hit her boyfriend.
If this had been another police department, the woman likely would have been taken to jail for the night to separate the couple, ending the intervention. The CMHA Police Department, on the other hand, had another option in this situation.
Rather than simply separate the couple and walk away, they called Beech Brook.
The Police-Assisted Referral (PAR) program is a partnership between the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority Police Department (CMHAPD), Beech Brook, and others, and is the first of its kind in the United States. PAR empowers police officers, who are the first responders to domestic incidents, to offer social supports and resources to families they see in crisis by connecting them to a mental health agency. Ultimately, the goal is to improve the relationships between police and the community they are policing, along with reducing the impact of violence on kids and families.
Why did the officer feel this couple needed a PAR referral?
After talking with them, he found out that the couple’s infant child had died recently - they were grieving and needed some mental health support.
Ron Robinson, Beech Brook’s PAR Program Manager and Licensed Social Worker (pictured, left), received the referral and met with the couple the next day. In this instance, both partners wanted PAR’s help.
“The beautiful thing about PAR is that this is a voluntary service,” Mr. Robinson says. “We don’t force the family to participate, but they often recognize the benefits when they find out that not only will we help them navigate through their current issue, but PAR will also help them with their most basic needs.” In the case of the couple who had lost their child, Mr. Robinson helped them with their housing, employment, and mental health – all factors that deeply affect one’s quality of life.
Beech Brook Board Member and Deputy-Director of the Begun Center for Violence Prevention, Mark Singer, PhD, has been the PAR program Principal Investigator since the program was created more than 15 years ago. “Look at a police officer’s duty belt,” Dr. Singer says. “We give police officers a gun. Ammunition. A taser. Handcuffs. Gloves to pat people down. Everything on the duty belt is for arrests or deterrence.”
“But there hasn’t traditionally been one thing on that belt for what police are doing 80-90% of their time. And that’s assisting and helping people, if only pointing them in the right direction for services.” PAR gives the CMHAPD another tool on their duty belt, but this one is strictly meant to help the families with whom they come in contact.
PAR gives people access to resources they would not have received had they not had an encounter with a CMHA police officer. But it also helps the police officers feel more connected with their community and boosts their morale.
“Police officers love it,” says Dr. Singer. “We did two focus groups with police – one before their participation in PAR and then one after – and what we hear from them is very encouraging. They say, ‘I can sleep at night now. I’d have to leave these events saying, well, you know, I arrested him, but man, that family is in deep trouble. Now, I know I got the family, or can get the family, help. And it takes me sixty seconds. I phone in. Give the name. The service follows up. And I’ve helped someone.’”
The other thing that officers cite as a change because of this effort with the PAR program is the new relationship they experience with the people they’ve helped; citizens stop them on the street to thank them for pointing them in the right direction. They thank them for helping them get help.
“And this is happening in the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city,” says Dr. Singer, “with citizens who are often the most alienated and the poorest who often distrust police. That’s the amazing part.”
Police are not mental health professionals – that much is certain. But cooperating with mental health agencies, like the CMHAPD has with Beech Brook’s PAR program, gives the police a way to interact with community members in a more positive way. As our lawmakers consider police reform in the wake of yet another unnecessary and tragic killing in Memphis, we hope they look to PAR as an example, because it truly is community policing at its best.
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