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Central Texas police department welcomes social worker

Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 9:25 AM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - On average, the Waco Police Department gets as many as three mental health calls a day, sometimes more. Now, the department is teaming up with Prosper Waco to make sure the community is getting the right help.

A social worker from Prosper Waco is helping the CCAST unit, or Career Criminal Apprehension Supervision Team. That particular unit deals with repeat offenders, but as the Waco Police Department found out, it’s not always criminals they’re dealing with.

Cierra Shipley, public information officer for WPD, said many of the calls they see are actually cases of trespassing or people going through a mental health crisis.

Prosper Waco director of behavioral health initiatives Telawna Kirbie said according to reports from the unit, many of the calls were not for violent crime, but for trespassing, substance abuse, or people going through mental health crises.

While officers do respond to these calls, Shipley said sometimes it takes hours to work through them, and police officers don’t really have the proper training to make sure people are getting the proper help they need.

That’s where the social worker comes in.

“With a trained social worker, they’re going to know a lot more of how and where to get resources and how to do it as efficiently as possible,” Shipley said. “When we have an officer that responds to a mental health crisis, they usually take them to the hospital and then it’s the hospital’s job to kind of discharge them and diagnose them with what they might be experiencing.”

Shipley said the social worker is able to work with people more and help them get on the right path.

Kirbie said the idea for the partnership came out of discussions with the Behavioral Health Leadership Team.

The team, which is made up of organizations like MHMR, local hospital administration, the sheriff’s office, and others, spends time looking at how to improve the behavioral health system in the area. THe group saw the need for a social worker to help the police department, since mental health concerns have come up as a major need.

The social worker will partner with the CCAST to work with the 25-30 people the unit is helping on a regular basis.

“They’ve been mentoring these folks and they’re not case managers, they’re not social workers, they’re police officers with really good hearts, to help people,” Kirbie said. “But really finding themselves, you know, in a role that doesn’t really fit what they were trained to do.”

Kirbie said it was a “perfect marriage” for the social worker to join the CCAST unit. The social worker will help with assessments, connect people with resources, and take a look at frequent emergency detention orders to see how they can offer help.

The social worker may also go out into the community with police officers to meet with people and provide support.

“The idea is if we can get in and support these folks, they’re going to have less mental health crises, they’re going to be overall physically and mentally better or more equipped,” Kirbie said.

Kirbie hopes if the social worker can connect with people in need, then it will improve the quality of life for people.

“We’re going to see a reduction in those incidents at the community, reduction in people that need to be hospitalized for psychiatric purposes, because their overall quality of life is improving,” Kirbie said. “We are interacting, are intervening with them, offering them a relationship, and offering them the ability to connect to the help that they need.”

Kirbie said when the police department gets a mental health call, there is a chain reaction. It can take the police department several hours to work through a call, then it can impact the hospital and beyond. Kirbie said if the situation isn’t handled correctly, it can become stressful and stress resources more than necessary.

Both Kirbie and Shipley said the partnership is important.

“With this social worker, we’re hoping to gain a bit of more of a relationship with the community, hoping to gain trust in the community and in a sense, help us all along the way.” Shipley said.

Kirbie hopes this partnership is just the beginning of what can become something that has a broader impact on the community.

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