Alexander: Social Work Is Not the Enemy

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Mark Draper

Utah Highway Patrol K-9 officer J. Banks (right) uses his phone as officers I. Lofton (far left) and B. Wood (center) look out over the crowd gathered to protest police brutality and corruption in front of the Utah State Capitol Building on June 4, 2020 (Photo by Mark Draper | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By CJ Alexander, Opinion Writer

 

The Utah Adult Probation and Parole Office have lost track of over 300 parolees over the past six months, including sex offenders, violent gang members and killers — all of whom are dangerous to the public. The disturbing truth was uncovered by KUTV when whistleblowing AP&P agents described the mess left after failing to supervise these fugitives. Anonymous officials blamed their failure on limitations because of their social work-like policing approach. Pro-cop and anti-social work rhetoric and attitudes are spreading in retaliation to this issue, but let me be clear: the police force needs social work to adequately and effectively keep our streets safe. Criticizing and discrediting social work in the name of police power is inexcusable, especially when people’s lives are at stake.

It’s no secret that police tend to have negative attitudes towards social work. Current police culture is characterized by the “warrior” mentality — an “us” versus “them” attitude that portrays a society in disarray. Police are often trained to see the community as an enemy. With a battle between blue lives and citizens at its heart, police culture is suppressive, cynical and undemocratic, pushing towards a power imbalance where officers are incredibly anti-social work. But they shouldn’t be. We need to reform police culture to accept and encourage social work. Social work helps further enhance community ties through community-oriented policing. “Guardian” mentalities build structure within police departments and improve law enforcement relations with communities. Police power is only effective with the community’s trust, and law enforcement needs to embrace social work to do their jobs well.

Nevertheless, some police officers are torn between the social work and police power mindset. Officers feel that their authority is being diminished because of the public’s desire for reformative police attitudes. Police feel restricted in carrying out arrests due to the public’s push for social work and less police power. However, police cannot fault their distaste for social work as their reason for putting citizens in harm’s way. No one is stopping law enforcement from carrying out arrests. Police accountability cannot be limited to combating excessive use of force and increasing community relations. What we, as citizens, mean by police accountability is having skilled and effective police officers who can do their job right and build ties with the community. Legitimate police officers should strive to maintain our trust by proving they are qualified and can serve the community. But the fiasco of losing 300 fugitives shows the distrust between Utah police and citizens.

That’s the main issue: how does AP&P lose over 300 parolees? This is a serious and glaring issue that Utah law enforcement needs to control and fix. Leaving these fugitives out on the street is costing us our safety, and in some cases, our lives. Our trust cannot be in the police if they are failing us. We need to hold AP&P accountable as we hold other law enforcement officers accountable because citizen safety depends on it. We need to see that people are getting the help they need: whether it’s incapacitating fugitives or rehabilitating citizens to reduce recidivism. Police can be social workers and police officers at the same time. Or rather, there needs to be a combined task force to tackle these problems with a greater emphasis on social work. Either way, it’s the job of the police to help people.

Attitudes towards social work must change for accountability to be a priority in law enforcement. The pro-cop mindset should be about helping people first and foremost. That includes helping the good as well as the bad. Whether keeping track of parolees, helping inmates get back on their feet, or conducting safe traffic stops: police need to do their jobs effectively to keep the community safe. Accountability and legitimacy are what we need from law enforcement. With an added emphasis on social work, law enforcement can help society in a broader sense and reinforce community efforts to keep our streets safe. Therefore, social work is not our enemy.

 

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@CamdenAlexande1