Kentucky town hires social workers instead of more officers – and the results are surprising

August 12, 2020
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Faced with a tight budget and rising demands on its 17 officer police department, the City of Alexandria in Campbell County tried something different. Instead of hiring an additional officer and taking on the added expenses of equipping that officer, the police chief at the time hired a social worker to respond in tandem with officers.

The goal was to provide expertise and immediately connect people in crisis to needed services.

“I’m more the second responder, so the officer responds first,” police social worker Kelly Pompilio said. “There are times that I do go on scene with the officer but that’s only after it’s secured and safe for me to enter. But I try to assist the family in whatever services they need so they don’t have to, whenever they’re having a crisis, or having a situation where they need law enforcement, they don’t have to call 911.”

Pompilio is the first to work a position of her kind in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Instead of working at another agency and waiting for a referral from a police department after a crisis, Pompilio works side-by-side with officers to respond as calls come in.

“Every day is different. We have no idea what’s going to come our way,” Pompilio said. “The main calls are domestic violence, mental health and substance abuse.”

After four years on the job, Pompilio said there has been a significant drop in repeat 911 calls with approximately 15 percent fewer people going to jail.

Now retired, former Alexandria Police Department chief Mike Ward said the results were immediate both for people in need and taxpayers.

“It was close to a $45,000 to $50,000 annual savings from hiring a police officer the first time to hiring a social worker,” Ward said. “They (police social workers) started solving problems for people in our community and for our agency that we’ve never been able to solve before.”

Ward believes the results in Alexandria, a city of less than 10,000, could be replicated in larger cities like Louisville, where officers respond to calls involving mental health, domestic disturbances, and homelessness an average of once every 10 minutes.

“Louisville is very big with services,” Pompilio said. “They have lots of things to offer families. It’s just a matter of a social worker connecting.”

Alexandria doubled down on its commitment and now employs two full-time social workers to work and respond with its 17 officers.

LMPD spokeswoman Jesse Halladay said she was not aware of anyone currently studying the Alexandria model.

“LMPD is always open to hearing about and considering best practices and models that will improve public safety and respond best to community needs,” Halladay said.

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