Wednesday, November 25, 2020

ELPD to hire social workers in place of two vacant officer positions

September 14, 2020
<p>An East Lansing police car is pictured on July 6th, 2017.</p>

An East Lansing police car is pictured on July 6th, 2017.

Photo by Jon Famurewa | The State News

MSU College of Social Work professor Glenn Stutzky has worked as a social worker for decades. At one point, he worked with the Lansing Police Department, or LPD, and the city officials.

Stutzky said that during his time working as a social worker with the City of Lansing, they paired up officers and social workers to help defuse and analyze situations.

"It was a partnership between the Lansing Police Department and people who were not (the) police," he said. "It made a lot of sense."

Now decades later, the East Lansing Police Department, or ELPD, is hiring two full-time police social workers to work in the department. It’s part of a realignment plan submitted by City Manager George Lahanas that is helping the department better understand it’s goals.

“Ideally the position is gonna provide crisis intervention, conflict resolutions, short-term counseling and community outreach to our community,” Interim Police Chief Steve Gonzalez said.

The two positions will assist with training officers, Gonzalez said. Those things are what Stutzky believes social workers can provide to the East Lansing community and local law enforcement. 

“To me, as a social worker that partnership still makes a lot of sense. Social workers do bring some unique skills to the situation. One of them has to do with being able to quickly observe situations and people,” Stutzky said. 

“But our whole profession is about people, understanding people," he said.

Both social worker positions will replace two vacant officer positions with the department. All open positions have been posted for application on the city website. The salary, according to the city website, ranges from $47,721 to $66,852 per year depending on qualifications.

After community response and protests following the death of George Floyd on Memorial Day in Minneapolis, the city decided to take a look at police reform and ways they can improve community relations and handle the issue of police brutality.

“It’s not just social workers. Its also those neighborhood resource officers that are gonna be unarmed folks that can respond to different calls in the community that might not require an officer,” East Lansing mayor Aaron Stephens said.

Per the plan, the goal of the social worker positions and the Neighborhood Resource Specialists Stephens refers to, is to also reduce law enforcement reactions with persons that have mental health, substance abuse, and homelessness issues by increasing the quality of life for these individuals through referral recommendations.

Lahanas’ plan outlined many of the changes that it says can make East Lansing an even more accepting, welcoming place to live, work and visit for everyone.

Social workers are trained to listen, Stutzky said. Police, in his mind, are trained to gain control of situations by “the means that are necessary to do that” and that fact is a reason Stutzky believes the partnership is important for ELPD.

“The point of rethinking our public safety is to start putting the priorities of our community as what our public safety is. We’re seeing a lot of situations, or at least in a lot of communities where they’ve had social workers on staff, there are situations where social workers can just follow up with individuals. They can deescalate in a different way,” Stephens said. 

In addition to two social worker positions, the city is hiring four Neighborhood Resource Specialists to handle non-enforcement service to the community. 

These employees will mediate peaceful disputes, facilitate resolutions and give direction or resources for individuals in need of assistance, the plan said. The positions will be part-time and have a cap of 1,000 hours a year as an employee. 


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