BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – A full-time social worker is now a member of the Bloomington Police Department. The force hired its first one a few months ago.
It’s a non-traditional way of policing. Chief Mike Diekhoff said he got the idea from different departments and decided to make his own program.
He said the typical way they have responded to calls involving people struggling with addiction, homelessness or mental health was not working. Melissa Stone now connects with these people as she works with downtown resource officers.
She tries to get them help by referring them to resources and following up with them. It is something police are not trained to do.
“They come to me and say I was not sure what else I could offer them. I hope you can do something too,” she said.
Senior patrol officer Luke Fosnaugh patrolled with her on Thursday. They drove around downtown and tried to touch base with people they have made contact with before.
The department noticed they were getting repeated calls on people and most of the cases involved mental health or something other than crime.
Chief Diekhoff said this program allows officers to focus on other things.
“The biggest benefit is we are not tied up on calls that really are not police related. They are not law enforcement or criminal type calls,” he said.
Stone picks up where police left off. She is helping officers learn how to approach these situations. It’s a partnership that is finding new ways to address challenges in their community.
“It has been an eye opening experience,” Stone said.
Chief Diekhoff said he is not ruling out the idea of hiring more social workers. He said they want to see how the program works.