East Providence will soon be the first Rhode Island municipality to hire a social worker to help police and other first responders in emergencies.
This month, the city launched its search for a social worker, who will assist with crisis intervention involving issues such as abuse, suicide, serious or fatal car crashes, emotional trauma and mental-health matters.
The list of duties includes supporting firefighters, police and other city employees in dealing with depression, anxiety, substance abuse, grief and other struggles.
Mayor Roberto DaSilva said the idea emerged more than a year ago when he noticed a shift in policing.
“Instead of just responding and dealing with the immediate problem and issue, we should really be looking at solving problems and being a resource for people in the community who need the help,” he said. “And I want to have somebody on staff who will be full time.”
East Providence had been working with Family Service of Rhode Island, which provided a social worker to the Police Department. But as some of the organization’s funding dried up, Chief Christopher Francesconi said the department was down to three hours per week from the employee.
“It’s tough to accomplish a lot in that short amount of time,” Francesconi said.
While the city is still determining the exact role of the social worker, Francesconi said the individual would not be responding to calls alongside officers but would help in the aftermath.
“The way I envision it is we really want to meet the needs of our community beyond the typical law enforcement response to things like domestic violence, addiction, mental health,” he said. “We really need a person who can follow up those calls and see what type of services can be offered to someone in their time of need.”
DaSilva said the employee could, for example, be asked to check in on addresses where officers notice a substance-use problem, to provide assistance.
Second position is possible
The salary for the role will fall in the range of $57,447 to $68,328, funded by the city’s American Rescue Plan Act dollars, and there could eventually be an opening for a second position.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Peter Neronha announced a settlement with opioid distributors that will provide aid to municipalities across the state. (Story, Page 1A) East Providence is receiving close to $1 million, allowing him to consider hiring another social worker.
“When I heard that we were getting this money, I’m like, ‘Oh my God, this is wonderful,’ because we will have, hopefully in short order, a full-time social worker working with us,” DaSilva said, adding that the newfound funds could be used “to further expand upon what we want to do.”
Providence has taken a similar approach to policing for nearly two decades with the help of Family Service's Providence Police Go Team, which pairs social workers with officers as they respond to calls.
Last summer, the city announced it was designing a crisis response team to field 911 calls, freeing up some police time for other emergencies.
In an update Tuesday, Mayor Jorge Elorza's office said that from August to November, the city's Behavioral Health Crisis Response Steering Committee held several meetings "that focused on the current response system and allowed for community members to provide input." An announcement on next steps is expected soon.
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: East Providence hiring social worker to work with police, firefighters