Oxford Police Dept. gets big response to social worker job posting

OXFORD — Efforts to hire a police social worker are moving forward after a hefty response to the job posting on the city’s web page, chief John Jones told members of the Police Community Relations and Review Commission at their March 10 meeting.

The chief said the job posting brought more than 40 applications, which had been narrowed down to 18 by that day and he hoped to get the list down even more to begin interviews soon.

“A lot of people are interested. I think our salary is competitive. We will be moving forward with a first round of interviews,” he said, adding it is only one of several openings the department is working to fill. “We have an officer vacancy to fill and several assistants.”

PCRRC member Aimin Wang asked if the social worker to be hired would have police training and Jones said that position is to be filled by someone with social work training who will work with police officers and teach officers how to deal with certain situations. He said it is a new thing, especially for this area and the person to be hired will work with officers and the community.

He was asked by commission member Hannah Stohry about tracking cases the social worker will encounter. The chief said they would do that, but would work with the new person to determine what software would be best and how to record those cases.

“This is not something I have ever supervised,” Jones said. “We will do what we can within our budget. We will do our best to provide a city vehicle. We want them to be successful and respond to calls so officers do not have to.”

The position is being created after City Council voted to implement recommendations of the Police Community Relations and Review Commission in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests around the country after the killing of George Floyd. The idea was floated in a letter to the city and recommended in a report on a city-wide needs assessment by the Miami University Department of Family Science and Social Work.

FSW faculty completed several focus groups with Oxford police officers and students analyzed data from emergency responders.

The PCRRC formed a subcommittee to study the various proposals in that original letter and made recommendations to Council, including the hiring of a police social worker to assist officers in situations where that training would be more useful than intervention by armed police officers.

The FSW report found the police and fire department were doing a good job but a broader need was follow-ups in situations that are less crime-related and more dealing with mental health, homelessness and other basic needs.

Speaking from the audience, Ann Wengler said she was happy to see the police social worker program get started.

“I am very happy, very, very thrilled this is coming to fruition. I hope the person in this position is able to work with the police,” she said.

Also speaking to the commission was Ann Fuehrer, the facilitator of the Oxford Citizens for Peace and Justice, who also spoke in favor of adding the position to the police department.

She began by citing her work on a dissertation at the University of Chicago studying the stress police officers encounter in their first year on the job. That work included ride-alongs with police and her notes documenting 1,300 encounters.

“People perceived as having mental health issues were criminalized at a higher rate,” she said.

Fuehrer is also the former executive director of the local food pantry, TOPSS, and cited an instance of caring police work she experienced while in that position, but the frustration of officers unable to come to a good conclusion. She said she called police when there was an issue with a customer, a woman who had been thrown out of her mother’s residence.

“She met with two officers and a young man for over 30 minutes. I was impressed with the empathy of the officers, but there was not a good solution,” she said, explaining local services are difficult to obtain in off-hours.

Fuehrer also said groups in the community are having discussions about dealing with homelessness, which comes up in a variety of situations and she noted approximately 5 percent of TOPSS customers are homeless.

“The community needs to be more accountable for all people within the community,” she said. “I think this will be a very, very challenging position. I want to help build up resources.”

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