When Eastern Connecticut State University Assistant Professor Dr. Isabel Logan teamed up with Willimantic Police Lt. Matthew Solak to create a police social work model, neither imagined the project would spread beyond the city’s 4.5- mile borders to become a national model.
Timing and circumstances were on their side. In the aftermath of the George Floyd tragedy, Connecticut state legislators decided to push through a bill that would mandate greater accountability and transparency in police departments.
Logan, a licensed clinical social worker, had moved from the public defender’s office into academia and wanted to develop a project that would bring together social work and law enforcement. At the same time, Solak was looking for a way to partner with social workers. When Logan came knocking, Solak discovered the answer sitting in his backyard.
“It came at the right time for us, because we had an emerging partner in Eastern Connecticut,” he said.
The Willimantic Police Department was receptive, and Logan had the perfect two undergraduate social work interns who knew more about social work than any of his police officers, Solak said.
“It was a great partnership from the minute we started,” he said, whose 50 sworn officers are all Crisis Intervention Trained (CIT).
Solak said initially he was very cautious and very measured about how he wanted to proceed because no one in Connecticut had ever done anything like this before. He modeled it after a field training officer/new recruit training relationship. He paired the interns with CIT officers with supervisory experience.
Once familiarity and trust were built, he felt comfortable sending the interns out with any officer.
Logan said even though she came from a public defender’s office and worked in the drug courts with police, working with Solak was a different experience.
“I didn’t know everything about law enforcement, so our partnership spilled into the field and we learned from each other, and the students and police saw us together which carried over to them,” Logan said.
After two successful years of building out the program, word spread and other police agencies and universities with social work programs came calling. The co-creators built out what has become known as the SWLE (Social Work Law Enforcement) Project.
“Educators were saying how do we prepare students to work with law enforcement,” Logan said. “We are pretty lucky in Connecticut that the majority of schools are joining together and putting students through this program and trusting us to [help them learn] about police social work.”
With the phones ringing off the hook, Dr. Logan and Lt. Solak decided to offer a Police Social Work Academy, a four-day intensive training program on best practices honed over the first two years.
They were able to use the Connecticut Police Academy venue, bringing together a variety of stakeholders from various police departments, social workers, interns, professors, university administrators, and interested parties from the private sector. The key takeaways were two-fold: first, getting everyone trained in the same space; second, learning about one another and their various industries, education, and experiences.
Beyond the hands-on experience, there was also the research. Police social work had been around for decades but had never really developed, Logan said, and collecting data would help solidify this field.
By training students the same way and analyzing the data, Logan and Solak could build out a model to be used anywhere for police social work training.
Building out that model starts with a multi-tier system, Logan said. A system comprised of three elements: what police social workers would do in a micro setting with individuals and family; what they would do in community; what they would do at a policy macro level. This plus the nine competencies required in social work were integrated and studied.
“The Police Social Work Academy helped set that tone,” Logan said. “We are doing this work but there is more to it. This is a partnership of two people building together, learning and sharing together.”
Solak echoed those sentiments and added, “It’s a true win for everyone. It takes you out of your silo. It’s a truly positive collaboration because it affects so many people.”