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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
Police officers and first responders work with a variety of people, calls, and situations in the course of their duties. Aside from criminal activity, officers respond to complaints and calls for service regarding individuals who are impacted by homelessness, substance abuse, and mental health crises. Agencies and stakeholder groups have found that involving social workers in addressing these issues leads to higher success in delivering services or appropriate treatment and improves the response to individuals experiencing homelessness or a mental health crisis.
In 2011, the Salt Lake City Police Department (SLCPD) created its Homeless Outreach Services Team (HOST), an innovative program developed in collaboration with homeless service provides to disrupt the cycle and address the underlying causes of homelessness. Since the HOST program’s inception, the SLCPD has continued to innovate and expand its services and collaborations in support of vulnerable populations.
In 2016, SLCPD opened the Community Connection Center (CCC), a joint effort of specially trained police officers and social workers, who provide a safe environment for individuals experiencing homelessness or a mental health crisis to access individualized care, support, and appropriate community services. The CCC houses three teams that work together: the Community Connection Team (social workers), HOST (police officers), and Crisis Intervention Team (CIT police officers). The center is also located right across the street from one of the city’s largest homeless resource centers. Salt Lake City social workers support the officers in making connections with individuals in the community to build rapport in hopes of connecting them to services or treatment.
The Community Connection team of social workers comprises one program manager, one office technician, five case workers and three therapists. These team members have a variety of specialties and have become liaisons between frontline police work, social service providers, and individuals and families experiencing homelessness or crisis. Services provided by the Community Connection team include intermittent, short term therapeutic interventions; care coordination and case management; and housing assistance and employment resources.
In addition to office and referral services, staff at the CCC also support vulnerable individuals in the field by responding to calls for service with co-responder teams made up of social workers and police officers. These co-responder teams have been used since 2017 to conduct direct outreach in the community and connect clients and community service providers. Co-response and outreach provide individuals an opportunity to talk with a social worker as a means of diversion from other outcomes, such as incarceration for minor crimes such as trespassing, drug use, or unsafe behaviors. Co-response and outreach provide individuals an opportunity to talk with a social worker as a means of diversion from other outcomes, like incarceration for minor crimes such as trespassing, drug use, or unsafe behaviors.
Scenarios in which the teams do co-response or outreach include the following:
Another goal of the SLCPD’s CCC is to identify individuals in Salt Lake City who are the highest users of emergency services and connect them with longer-term support services. The most frequent users of emergency services in Salt Lake City—typically people with multiple nuisance offenses or untreated mental health issues—are placed on a ‘Top 50’ list, which is updated quarterly. In 2018, these 50 individuals had a combined 571 calls for service and 595 arrests. The CCC teams track interactions with the Top 50 individuals and maintain regular contact with these individuals to build trust and work to address short- and long-term needs, with the end goal of decreasing their reliance on emergency services.
By responding to homelessness or mental health crises calls for service, the CCC teams free up valuable patrol officer time to address other safety issues and calls for service. To date, in 2019, the CCC officers have taken 317 patrol calls from dispatch, allowing patrol officers to be available for other situations. Further, the CCC officers can offer their experience and expertise in specific calls that come through dispatch and coordinate appropriate services and contacts, depending on the situation.
Another benefit of the police and social worker partnership is the financial savings for state and municipal emergency and social services. One person, ‘Jane,’ experienced hundreds of doctor and hospital visits over the last few years to address recurrent crises. As a result of the CCC team’s intervention and the support of other community providers, Jane is now in a stable, residential setting with daily living supports. The savings costs for an individual like Jane can be over $200,000 per year.
The work of the Salt Lake City Police Department and CCC teams is so exceptional, the agency was selected as one of six national model cities for Police-Mental Health Collaboration (PMHC) programs, and the CCC hosts visits for agencies and communities interested in learning about the program. Find more information on these programs at the Police-Mental Health Collaboration website.
For agencies interested in replicating the SLCPD model in their own community, the staff and officers have a lot of information about lessons learned through the process of creating, implementing, and modifying the program. Here are some of their takeaways:
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