In the last three weeks, two social workers have been killed in the line of duty. On Nov. 30, a man in Seattle stabbed his caseworker, Kristin Benson, to death. On Dec. 2, a man in Melbourne, Florida, shot and killed Travis Knight, a social worker with whom the suspect had worked at a mental health treatment facility. This also happened to a Kansas City-area social worker in 2004. A 17-year-old in Johnson County attacked his mental health social worker,Teri Zenner,with a knife and chainsaw when she did a home visit in 2004. She died at the scene.
Social work is a dangerous profession. A 2017CBS News article named it the 20thmost deadly job in America, with 1 death per 100,000. (Police and firefighters ranked at No. 15, with 6.2 deaths per 100,000.) But social work also is a very important profession. So much so that we brought them onto the police department to be assigned to work alongside police officers beginning in late 2017. As far as I know, we were the first police department in the United States to employ full-time social workers who work from officer referrals. Before that, our CIT officers were borrowing mental health social workers to come along on calls with them whenever they could.
Social work absolutely has a place in law enforcement, but it cannot replace law enforcement, as many people have demanded this year. People who are in mental health or substance abuse crisis are not stable. They’re not always dangerous, but they can be. The criminal justice system is not the way to treat people with mental illness, but it does work to ensure people’s safety.