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Government, Politics & Issues

St. Louis Mayor Says Social Workers Will Help ‘Disrupt And Transform’ Public Safety

 St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones announces the appointments of Dan Isom and Heather Taylor to key positions in the city's Department of Public Safety in April. Jones hopes to revamp the city's approach to public safety, in part by placing trained social workers in city departments.
File photo | Jason Rosenbaum
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St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones announces the appointments of Dan Isom and Heather Taylor to key positions in the city's Department of Public Safety in April. Jones hopes to revamp the city's approach to public safety, in part by placing trained social workers in city departments.

St. Louis plans to embed social workers in a number of city departments, as part of an effort to keep people out of the criminal justice system.

The Social Workers for St. Louis Initiative, which will hire up to 30 social workers beginning next month, is modeled on similar efforts in Colorado and Oregon. Among its goals is to connect nonviolent people experiencing mental health crises with trained health care workers — rather than police officers.

The program is a cornerstone of St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones’ plan to redesign the city’s approach to public safety and policing.

“We are looking to disrupt and transform our current public safety system into one that is outward-looking and helps people,” Jones said during a panel discussion Wednesday. “When the right professional is deployed to the right call, we are better positioned to meet the needs of our residents.”

Social workers hired through the initiative will work with staff in the St. Louis City Department of Public Safety, Health Department and Department of Human Services.

Some will work with people experiencing homelessness, while others will provide victim support services and conduct pretrial mental health evaluations, Jones said.

The program is a partnership with the Brown School at Washington University.

St. Louis is one of a growing number of cities nationwide working to funnel certain nonviolent emergency calls to trained mental health specialists, instead of to police. In January, the city launched its Cops and Clinicians program, which diverts some 911 calls to social workers and crisis counselors.

In describing the latest effort to hire additional social workers, Jones said she hopes it will be one piece of a larger transformation of public safety in St. Louis that will outlast her administration.

“St. Louis is notorious for making plans and writing reports and putting them on a shelf to collect dust,” Jones said. “We cannot afford to do that anymore.”

Follow Shahla on Twitter: @shahlafarzan

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