Connor Pollick, a senior at Eastern Connecticut State University, is a college intern with the Willimantic Police Department. He rides along with officers, responds to calls, reviews paperwork, and conducts follow-up visits.
But Pollick is not a criminal justice intern. He is studying social work.
"We have different skillsets than them and we can help people in different ways," said Pollick.
ECSU and the Willimantic Police Department are partnering for a new Social Work and Law Enforcement (SWLE) project. The project pairs interns with police departments, training social workers and police officers to work alongside each other.
"The time is definitely right now to have a meaningful conversation about how both of these fields can be stronger together than they might be a part," said Willimantic Police Lt. Matthew Solak, co-director of the SWLE project.
Dr. Isabel Logan leads the program alongside Solak. Logan is a professor at Eastern and a licensed clinical social worker. She believes the SWLE project is the first specialized training program of its kind in the country.
"We need to understand that not just anyone can jump into these roles. There's a lot more than just jumping in," said Logan. "We need to make sure that we are preparing social workers for this emerging field and that is the scope of this project."
The project launched shortly after state lawmakers passed the police accountability act. Section 18 of the new law requires police departments to explore how using social workers would impact the department.
"We can help people deal with their concerns and their needs in a way that prevents them from getting into the criminal justice system," said Logan. "Because we definitely do not want people in the criminal justice system that do not need to be there."
The interns respond to nonviolent calls that deal with mental health, homelessness, or other issues that might not require a uniformed police officer.
"People call the police because we are the only ones who answer the phone 24 hours a day. We can render the scene safe, make sure everyone is okay and get people to the hospital if that's where they need to be, but it's that long term follow up treatment that someone in the social work field is best positioned to do," said Solak.
Pollick said during his internship he has helped connect people in the community with resources that can help.
"Having that extra kind of bridge to go between the officers and the community- I think that's never a bad thing," said Pollick.
Since the program began last year, it has expanded. The SWLE project held a Police Social Work Academy in September. They are currently training students in four police departments across Connecticut. Willimantic, Norwich, Milford and Stamford police departments all have social work interns.
"My hope is that we start to make a little bit of a change and that the students get the educational experience that they need and that I am preparing social workers to be out there to work for social justice and to be able to address community needs in a very ethical and professional way," said Logan.