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Fullerton Launches Pilot Police Social Worker Program to Revolutionize Public Safety

Unique initiative in Orange County puts focus on treatment over incarceration, aiming to improve community relations and response times.

In an innovative move to reform public safety, the City of Fullerton, in partnership with Supervisor Doug Chaffee and the Fullerton Police Department, has unveiled a pilot program to integrate licensed social workers into the policing process. The two-year Fullerton Police Department Social Worker Program is set to handle cases involving mental health crises, domestic violence, and juvenile delinquency, with the intention of improving community safety and emergency response times.

The $1,000,000 fund for the program, provided through Fourth District Discretionary Grants by Supervisor Chaffee, will facilitate the hiring of two licensed clinical social workers, along with the procurement of necessary equipment and two unmarked police vehicles.

In a move described as a 'shift from incarceration to treatment', the program will engage these social workers, employed by the Fullerton Police Department, in resolving mental health crises. Supervisor Chaffee commented, "The approach aims to reduce the strain on law enforcement resources while fostering positive community relationships and improving outcomes for those in need."

The inclusion of social workers in the law enforcement strategy of Fullerton represents a significant departure from traditional policing methods. The program assures the delivery of apt and effective aid to those in crisis, including crisis response, mediation, referrals to healthcare providers, formulating treatment plans, and performing case follow-ups. Additionally, trained social workers will employ de-escalation techniques to peacefully settle disputes.

Mayor Fred Jung expressed gratitude to Supervisor Chaffee and the Board of the Supervisors for their progressive initiative. He asserted, "With the one million dollars allocated to the City of Fullerton by the County of Orange, residents and businesses will be provided another tool for law enforcement."

Fullerton Police Chief Robert Dunn commended the collaboration and welcomed the crucial addition to community resources. The Police Department will collect data during the program in the hope that the metrics will demonstrate its success and encourage its implementation in other cities.

This initiative aligns with Supervisor Chaffee’s earlier attempts to strengthen the public health care workforce in Orange County through the creation of a Master of Social Work Stipend Program for students at Cal State Fullerton. The Orange County Board of Supervisors and the Fullerton City Council gave unanimous approval for the program on Tuesday, July 18, 2023.


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