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What Defunding The Police Could Mean For Social Workers

There are people who haven’t yet spoken up about defunding the police. We’ve heard from politicians, athletes, and celebrities, but what about the people who have no voice?

I don't typically veer off into controversial or political topics, but this issue touches the lives of the children for whom I advocate, and for some of the best people on earth--social workers who have dedicated their lives to helping others. So I'll speak up for them.

There are 1,843 children who are abused in this country daily who desperately hope that the police will show up to rescue them. Since most of them are under the age of 4, they’re unable to write an op-ed, post their concern on Twitter, or call in to the local TV station to raise awareness of their plight.

There are 1,188 people aged 12 and over who are raped daily in the US who want the police to show up and rescue them and to lock up the people who just irrevocably changed their lives so that those rapists can’t come back and do it again or do it to someone else.

The voices that are entirely silent are those of the 38 people every day who are murdered in the US who would have preferred that the police showed up before someone took their lives. I wonder how many people were saved by police showing up before more murders could take place, and how many more people will die every day if there aren’t enough police to show up in time.

We can add to this list the victims of violent crime, robbery, assault, and the victims of human trafficking, especially the children who are commercially sexually exploited every day.

The statistics of crimes mentioned here happened with fully funded police departments. Imagine how these numbers could explode without the deterrent of law enforcement.

In addition to police responses to calls for help, just the mere presence of police saves lives. When drivers know that law enforcement officers are watching their speed, they’re more likely to drive within the speed limit. When drivers know that there are no police watching, they drive at higher speeds, which leads to more accidents and higher numbers of fatalities. The same is true for other crimes as well. As the old saying goes, "when the cat's away, the mice will play."

One popular solution is the suggestion that social workers respond to many of the calls that come in to 9-1-1. Social workers already accompany police on many domestic violence and child abuse calls. But to send them out unaccompanied by someone who is armed, trained, and has the authority to arrest is to put the social worker in danger.

Social workers are armed with nothing more than a name badge that admits them to their county office. Imagine a social worker trying to de-escalate an angry, mentally ill, or inebriated person who might be able to overpower them. No gun. No handcuffs. No authority to arrest. And even if they did have a weapon, most social workers don’t have the stomach to use it.

The very nature of most people who go into social work is to help people, not to hold them accountable for their actions. If social workers did carry weapons, it would only be a matter of time before a perpetrator disarmed them and turned the weapon on the social worker.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, being a social worker is one of the top 20 deadliest jobs in the US. The dangers faced by social workers are many. And these job-related injuries are documenting social work as has been and is now, before the police are defunded. Imagine putting these good-hearted people directly into dangerous situations without the protection of law enforcement. The resulting tragedies are predictable.

Some defend their suggestion that social workers should respond to law enforcement calls by saying that schools of social work train their social work students to protect themselves through situational awareness, remaining in their vehicles (yes, they try to talk people off of proverbial ledges from the confines of their cars), and stepping to the side of a doorway after knocking, but all of these are defensive positions that make the person responding to the call less effective than they would be if they were properly protected while trying to do their job.

One social worker I interviewed, who prefers to remain anonymous, told of a co-worker who went out to a home to investigate a case of suspected physical abuse of a child. She knocked on the door and stated who she was, as she had been trained to do. The child’s father opened the door with a shot gun pointed right in her face. Thankfully she was able to diffuse that situation, but future conflicts could end very differently.

On another call, a social worker attempted to speak to a mother who was homeless and was unable to properly care for her child. She found the mother and child sitting at a bus stop. When the worker approached, the mother began to scream at the worker. She picked up a stick and began swinging at the worker. Someone called 9-1-1 to report that the social worker was trying to abduct a woman’s baby. Someone else attempted to take the baby from the mother and run. And several other people at the bus stop were yelling at the social worker to leave the woman alone. Various epithets were being hurled at the social worker, including one person screaming that the social worker should “go to hell.” The social worker was alone and under attack by everyone at the bus stop.

Police officers arrived and pulled the social worker to safety, caught the woman who had run off with the homeless woman’s baby, and restored peace. There is no happy ending in a story like this. You may side with the homeless woman or with the people at the bus stop rather than with the social worker. But regardless, the job of the social worker is always to protect the most vulnerable. In this case, it was the job of the social worker to make sure that the child is properly cared for. The social worker was doing her job. Imagine how differently this situation might have turned out if there were no police to respond.

By the statistics of job-related injuries to social workers with a fully funded police department, it’s clear that defunding police and sending social workers out on calls that should be dealt with by properly trained law enforcement officers will inevitably lead to tragedy.

When something is predictable, it’s preventable. To move forward with defunding police is to set into motion a series of unnecessary, profoundly sad tragedies.

Rhonda Sciortino, author of 30 Days To Happiness (featured on Ellen DeGeneres' show), used the coping skills from her abusive childhood to create personal and professional success. Through her speaking, writing, podcast, media appearances, and videos she shares how others can use the obstacles in their lives as stepping stones to a their real success. Rhonda's life goal is to encourage people to change the world through love and kindness. To that end, she's launched the Love Is Action Community Initiative.


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