Police social workers combine the fields of law enforcement and social work to assist clients, often criminals, in making better choices and becoming productive members of society. These social workers focus on rehabilitation and offer concrete solutions that offenders may not have otherwise considered. Specific skill sets that police social workers may address include life skills, therapy and substance abuse counselling.
According to the New Social Worker online magazine, between 1910 and the mid-1950s, many police departments employed women as social workers. Alicia Stebbins Wells, the first commissioned policewoman in the United States, initially served as a social worker. She strongly believed her job was to prevent arrests, not make them. In her desire for greater effectiveness, she petitioned her supervisor in Los Angeles for a promotion in 1910, which she was granted. She eventually became the first president of the International Association of Policewomen (IAP) and spoke around the country. Other police departments began hiring women across the nation. In Washington, D.C., in 1924, Lt. Mina C. Van Winkle continued advocacy for the cooperation of police work and social work. She wrote, "Police work is social work."
Working with Women
Police social workers may work with vulnerable populations, such as women and children, either victims or offenders themselves, in much the same way Alicia Stebbins Wells did. They may also assist clients with practical issues such as transportation, vocational training, education and child care.
When police social workers provide practical solutions to ongoing challenges, they become instrumental in positive change. Sometimes a crime victim will become an offender simply because she sees no other option and does not have the life skills needed to make other choices. With a solution in sight, the offender can build hope, and the cycle can be broken.
Working With Children
Police social workers may be specifically hired to work with children traumatised by the effects of crime. The child may not be able to speak with a policeman due to the impact of the offence. A compassionate female police social worker can draw information out of the child that is critical evidence for court proceedings. In addition, the police social worker can comfort the child and help her begin to process some of the traumatic events.
Working with Offenders
Some police social workers may specialise in addiction issues such as counselling, finding a group home, or outpatient services. Police social workers can provide another listening ear during the resolution of a domestic dispute. The police social worker who deals with offenders will have the opportunity to apply a wide range of skills to a diverse population group.
Someone with training as a police social worker may also be interested in the following fields: probation or parole, forensics, corrections or youth services. Each of these fields emphasises a slightly different aspect of service to socially disadvantaged persons. While a police social worker may be in the field often, corrections personnel are usually confined to one location. Probation and parole officers emphasise the law enforcement side of social work. Forensics work does not deal as directly with criminal populations. Youth services focuses more on the rehabilitation of young people.