Role of social work in policing evolves

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – ​​Humboldt County Sheriff Billy Honsal will seek funding for a new collaboration between his deputies and Department of Health and Human Services social workers as discussions on police reform continue here  and nationwide.

Honsal proposed the inclusion of social workers in a variety of police responses as the Board of Supervisors discussed Senate Bill 271, the Sheriff Democracy and Diversity Act. It’s a state bill that seeks to remove standard law enforcement experience, training and certification as requirements to run for county sheriff.

Proponents of the bill say the requirements limit candidates and result in candidates running unopposed.

The bill also promotes experience beyond policing and when asked about that, Honsal said he envisions social workers playing a key role in police responses.

Humboldt County Sheriff Billy Honsal.

“What we want to do is have mobile outreach for those times when someone is having a mental health crisis,” he continued. “When there’s no danger and they’re not threatening with weapons, they’re not threatening to harm themselves but they would love to be able to speak with someone – we do have those calls from time to time.”

Social workers can also be helpful on domestic violence calls. “After everything’s been defused, to have someone come in and talk to the kids and the families after the fact is definitely worthwhile,” Honsal said, adding that an “avenue of funding” from the county is hoped-for.

He told supervisors he’ll present a budget proposal for the police/social worker collaboration within the next year.

The discussion on SB 271 was agendized by supervisors Michelle Bushnell and Rex Bohn, who proposed sending a letter of opposition to it.

Bohn said the bill’s provisions won’t work in smaller rural counties and doesn’t make sense “unless you’re trying to tip the scales politically.”

Bushnell said rural counties need hands-on, working sheriffs who have experience and can participate in patrolling. “With this bill, we can lose that,” she continued.

Honsal noted that the state’s law enforcement associations oppose the bill. He said standard-setting for entry level officers is increasing and should be carried into management.

A public comment period only had one participant who believes approval of SB 271 will mark progress.

“Police don’t keep us safe, as we know from our friends in the black, brown, LGBTQ and poor communities,” she said, adding that the candidacy requirements work to “sustain the elite power structure and status quo, running counter to the changes necessary for healthy, safe communities.”

Supervisors took varied stances on the bill. Supervisor Mike Wilson said he’s not ready to take a position, describing the bill as a work in progress.

But Supervisor Steve Madrone said he has confidence in the judgement of voters and supports the bill as it stands now.

Board Chair Virginia Bass joined Bohn and Bushnell in voting to send a letter opposing the bill to a legislative committee chaired by Senator Mike McGuire.

Madrone voted against doing so and Wilson abstained from the vote.




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