An innovative program helping police be part of quick first-response to social service needs was the topic of a Thursday international visit.
Case Western Reserve University’s Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences and the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority Police Department welcomed 13 students and two faculty members from the Vrije University in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
The visiting group, which toured CMHA police headquarters in Cleveland and went to a public housing estate, was interested in learning how the CMHA police, through an initiative called Police Assisted Referral (PAR), now are able to help residents and make referrals to social service agencies for assistance for a range of incidents, such as domestic violence, child abuse, and children exposed to violence.
PAR is a partnership CMHA has established with Case Western Reserve University’s Begun Center on Violence Prevention Research and Education at Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, the Partnership for A Safer Cleveland, Mental Health Services, Inc., Children Who Witness Violence, and the Institute for Study and Prevention of Violence at Kent State.
Members of the CMHA Police Department and Mark Singer, CWRU professor of social work, discussed the new program that is showing success in linking people in crisis to appropriate social services. PAR hopes to expand to include mental health issues, drug/alcohol problems and more.
“I think it’s a great program,” said Nienke Dekker, a third-year criminology student who was part of the visiting group from Vrije. She expressed surprise such a police program is not more widespread across the United States. “It’s a good way for people who may not have adequate resources to get the help they need,” she said.
CMHA Police Chief Andres Gonzalez told the group the program has become a vital part of the authority’s police force since PAR was started in December. He said one of the advantages of the program is the opportunity to build trust between the officers and the community they serve.
“This program allows these officers to make an actual referral to a social service agency when they think it’s necessary. They can do it right on the spot,” Singer said. He explained the program gives police officers a valuable tool to help public housing residents.
Frank van Gemert, professor of criminology, had become aware of PAR during a visit with Singer recently in Amsterdam and requested an opportunity to bring a group of students to learn more about it. He said the PAR model is similar to a common style of police work in Holland.
“I hope this visit gives the students another view of American policing,” he said. CMHA Police Sgt. Mike Jones told the students: “A police officer wants to help, no matter how tough that police officer may appear.”
Founded in 1933, the CMHA is the oldest public housing authority in the country. The police department has obtained national recognition through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). It serves Cuyahoga County excluding Chagrin Falls Township primarily through two federally assisted housing programs: Low-Income Public Housing, which serves about 19,000 residents, and the Housing Choice Voucher Program, which provides rental assistance for 14,000 households.
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