Chattanooga police hiring social workers to help crime victims
Chattanooga police officers are getting new "partners" to help families in their worst moments.
The city will use nearly $600,000 in grant money to hire and fund social workers. They'll be there right after a crime happens, and can help support victims in ways that police officers cannot.
"They're exactly what a public safety organization, a law enforcement organization, needs to help victims after crime," said Chattanooga Chief of Police Fred Fletcher.
Fletcher explained that three separate grants, totaling $600,000, will pay for training, services, and salaries for at least two licensed clinical social workers.
Counselors can be just a phone call away after minor crimes, but during tragedies, they'll be on scene, Fletcher said.
"In a serious incident, like the crash we had on I-75, bringing social workers and counselors out to the scene to help people process the immediate aftermath, to having debrief sessions later on, and follow-up therapy," said Fletcher.
Early in his career, the Chief of Police recalls responding to a crime scene with a social worker and the difference it made.
"I learned from observing that counselor interact with a victim how to be the kind of police officer I want to be. I want to provide that sort of experience to the police officers that I serve," Fletcher said.
Last fall, CPD began an effort to get faith and community leaders to stop by the homes of victims and their families immediately following traumatic crimes. But licensed clinical social workers take that support a few steps further, including professional counseling sessions and resources for housing, transportation, and safety plans.
The idea is making the community safe, but letting victims know they don't have to deal with tragedy on their own.
"To make sure they feel and are safe in the aftermath of a crime, regardless of whether or not we are able to catch and convict the person who caused them harm," Fletcher explained.
CPD hopes to have social workers on the streets with officers early next year. After the grant money runs out, the police department plans to ask the city to budget for funding the positions long-term.