Lancaster city plans to hire a social worker to join its police department in 2019. Whoever is chosen for the newly created position will be tasked, according to a Monday article by LNP’s Tim Stuhldreher, “with assisting people in crisis, making referrals to local service providers, establishing connections with neighborhood leaders, identifying needs and helping to craft initiatives in response, and educating police officers and the community at large.” The social worker will also work in conjunction with a Lancaster County caseworker who is already stationed at police headquarters to handle crisis intervention and referrals.
Running a city is difficult and mostly unglamorous work. It’s about stormwater and trash, street repair and bond refinancing. There is endless behind-the-scenes crunching of budget numbers.
But running a city is also about the people. We appreciate that Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace continues to emphasize that.
When she ran for mayor, one of her platform’s top priorities was as follows, according to an October 2017 LNP article: “Strengthen our neighborhoods. We will have a director of neighborhood engagement whose job it will be to marshal the full complement of city services and work with residents and community-based organizations to accomplish resident-driven priorities.”
In April, just months after Sorace took office, Milzy Carrasco was hired for the position — director of neighborhood engagement — that Sorace had promised during her campaign. Carrasco, formerly the director of programs and development for San Juan Bautista Church on South Duke Street, now serves as a liaison between residential communities and City Hall, helping to fulfill Sorace’s pledge to make strong neighborhoods a cornerstone of her administration.
On behalf of city residents, Carrasco, a J.P. McCaskey graduate, arranges neighborhood meetings, workshops and celebratory events. She also helps, among other things, to coordinate housing and social services for displaced residents. Fluent in English and Spanish, she reaches out to community leaders on myriad issues and when tense or difficult situations arise.
We appreciate Carrasco’s work and the mayor’s prioritization of that position.
And it’s clear, as the mayor realizes too, that more resources need to be put toward the city’s relationship with its citizens.
With that push comes the plan to add a social worker to the staff of Lancaster city’s police department.
Its officers regularly handle incidents that involve factors — mental illness, drug abuse, homelessness — that can and should fall under the purview of social services. But while they are skilled emergency responders, police officers are not trained social workers and have neither the time nor the expertise to serve as such.
Adding a social worker to the police department will reap huge benefits for the force and the citizens of Lancaster. It’s a “win-win,” as Lancaster city police Capt. Sonja Stebbins told LNP’s Stuhldreher. The efforts of the new staffer will supplement and reinforce patrol officers’ work, Chief Jarrad Berkihiser added.
Stebbins, describing the genesis of the new position, told Stuhldreher “she studied the concept while attending the Northwestern University School of Police Staff & Command, which provides advanced administrative and executive training for police officials.” That led to a formal proposal that she submitted to Berkihiser.
Sorace, reflecting her administration’s priorities, then added the social worker position to the proposed 2019 budget (in addition to the creation of an information technology position to support the new police body camera program).
“Social workers often specialize,” Stuhldreher noted, “but the person who’s hired will need to be a generalist, able to handle a wide spectrum of issues: domestic violence, drug abuse, mental illness, poverty.”
For those who might be dismayed that this position is being created at a time when the proposed city budget includes a 1 mill (9.3 percent) property tax hike, we would counter that the social worker’s proposed salary represents about 0.05 percent of the city’s $114.3 million combined operating budgets. The impacts of having this new city employee in place are, we believe, well worth the expenditure. The costs — legal and otherwise — of not having adequate resources to deal properly with an unexpected event could be far greater.
Lancaster County already has a caseworker at city police headquarters, and that will continue to be the case. The two social workers are expected to collaborate closely, and their combined ability to reach more citizens in more neighborhoods should have a great impact.
Some of our readers are already embracing the new position in comments on LancasterOnline.com. Among them: “This is excellent news and a positive for both Lancaster and the LPD” and “Great idea and yes, need more than two total but everything has to start somewhere!”
We agree. A city is only as strong as its people. And using taxpayer funds for staffers who will listen to and support the needs of its most vulnerable citizens is very welcome.