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Rutland Police Department Encourages More Collaboration With DCF

Nina Keck
The Rutland Police Department has been piloting a program where police officers work side-by-side with specialists in mental health, domestic violence, addiction, and family service programs. Some would like to see DCF participate too.

The recent murder of DCF caseworker Lara Sobel has focused attention on the safety of counselors, social workers and others who deal with families in potentially volatile situations. 

For the past two years, the Rutland police department has been piloting an innovative program where police officers work side by side with specialists in mental health, domestic violence, addiction and family service programs.

Several of those involved including Scott Tucker, outreach commander for Rutland’s Police Department, believe the Department for Children and Families could also benefit from taking part.

“So we’re standing in the Vision Center,” says Tucker as he walks from a large room with several desks, into an even larger room divided by office partitions.

“The community response team is in there,” he says pointing over his shoulder. "Our animal control officers and school outreach personnel work with staff from probation and parole as well as a drug trafficking specialist."

“Out here,” he says walking past several cubicles, "we have a prosecutor from the state’s attorneys office, crisis intervention staff from the local women’s shelter andRutland Mental Health. We even have a community mediator from Rutland United Neighborhoods work here one day a week.”

Tucker stops at an empty office with a sign that says DCF on the window. “This space here is for the Agency of Human Services Department for Children and Families,” he says. “As you can see, they have folders here and we’d love to see ‘em more often.”

Tucker says they’ve been talking with JenniferBurkey, the director of DCF’s Rutland District Office, about embedding a DCF investigator in the police department. But so far it hasn’t happened.

Every agency works at its own schedule, he acknowledges. “But we’re all dealing with the same families, so it only makes sense that we can support them in some manner.” 

For instance, Tucker says, “If you have a family that you’re concerned about, sometimes it’s bullying, sometimes its threatening and you feel like you just need a little extra support. We could take a team with us,” he says. “Somebody from Rutland mental health crisis, someone from the domestic violence side of the house, or a police officer in terms of giving support to the case worker.”

Rutland Mental Health’s Alecia Armstrong has been embedded with the police department for two years handling calls that involve mental health issues. She says the partnership has been tremendous.

“What that’s translated into is an easier time for my teammates who are over at the main office and mostly at the hospital; for them to call the police. So no longer is it, ‘Oh, it’s Mental Health calling us needing a health and welfare check.’ It’s ‘Oh, it’s Kelly, she works with Alecia, yeah,’ and so it’s that familiarity that’s really helped us tremendously,” she says.

Armstrong believes more collaboration with police and other agencies would help the Department for Children and Families as well.

“I can remember on one occasion we got a call that the police needed to go to the home and remove some children and take the kids into custody. The DCF worker was there and they requested that I go along with them and that’s the first an only time that that’s happened,” says Armstrong.

“And what I did on that situation is I went with the police and DCF worker and after the kids were removed I stayed with the mother and I talked to her and I supported her and I went back the next day and offered her services,” says Armstrong.

“It worked beautifully, and I could imagine that happening more if a DCF investigator were working up here with all of us,” she adds.

"It worked beautifully, and I could imagine that happening more if a DCF investigator were working up here with all of us." - Alecia Armstrong, Rutland Mental Health

Scott Tucker of the Rutland City Police says his heart goes out to DCF and he knows its staff is on the front lines in incredibly challenging situations.

Because of last week’s shootings, he says many state workers may understandably want to limit home visits. But he believes the whole idea of pulling back during this time and not going out in the field is a mistake. “What you need to do is create the appropriate support,” says Tucker. “Take it along with you, and I think the outcome will be much better.”  

The Department for Children and Families does not have data on the number of calls social workers went on with police.

Jennifer Burkey, the district director of DCF’s Rutland office, would not be interviewed for this story, but in a written statement said, “Although we do not have staff embedded at Project Vision, we do work in close coordination with the partners housed there and highly respect the great work that is being done in this setting.  As District Director, I am involved in their bi-weekly meetings, along with some of our social work staff.   If we face a potentially dangerous or violent situation, we know we have the full support of the Rutland City Police Department and other local law enforcement agencies and their resources." 

Burkey continues, "While we understand the potential value of having a social worker onsite at Project Vision, we also have to consider the needs of the Family Services office and staff at this time. This includes the ability, especially for newer social workers, to have connections with their coworkers and immediate accessibility to their Supervisor.  We strive to make decisions that support our efforts of continuous quality improvement and best practices, and will continue to explore this relationship.”

Update 11 a.m. 8/26/15 This story has been updated to add additional information from DCF.

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