Legislation would require social workers in police precincts

A new bill hopes to break the cycle of arrests, often for petty crimes.

Councilmembers Yusef Salaam and Erik Botcher at press conference

Councilmembers Yusef Salaam and Erik Botcher at press conference Angelique Molina-Mangaroo

A new bill, Int. No. 862 proposed by City Council members Erik Bottcher and Yusef Salaam, will require the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to staff each police precinct in New York City with social workers on a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week basis.

The proposed bill, originally introduced in 2017 by then City Council members Adrienne Adams and Mark Levine, has now been updated to include non-clinical social workers and specifically addresses victims of crimes. The bill would hire 231 social workers with earnings of about $70,000 annually, plus benefits. Overall, the cost would equate to roughly $20 million according to civil rights attorney Norman Siegal, who spoke at a press conference Thursday held at Masjid Malcolm Shabazz in Harlem to announce the legislation. 

“For far too long, often these prisons have shouldered the burden of addressing social and emotional needs beyond their scope of expertise,” Salaam said at the press conference“Every day officers encounter individuals grappling with issues like poverty, substance abuse, mental health crises, and domestic violence, Salamm added. “These are issues that demand a delicate touch, nuanced understanding and resources beyond what traditional law enforcement can provide. That's why today, Councilman Bottcher and I are introducing a bill that seeks to bridge the gap between law enforcement and social services.”

Requiring social workers in police precincts will provide those being arrested with treatment, resources, and follow-up plans. The goal is to break the cycle of arrest, often for petty crimes, according to Bottcher. The bill requires that social workers report to and are staffed by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, not the New York Police Department. Electeds also hope to address the language needs of the community by hiring culturally competent social workers, or social workers who speak the languages spoken in the communities being served. 

New York City spent $114 million on police misconduct lawsuits last year, but Seigal says he anticipates this to decrease with the presence of social workers there to prevent any misconduct from occurring. 

In addressing the shortage of social workers, Councilmember Bottcher said that another proposed bill removes a clinical exam which has disproportionately barred people of color and older test takers from receiving their licenses. He said he hopes this effort will pave the way for more social workers to join the workforce.

“This boils down to what kind of city we want to live in,” Bottcher added. “Are we going to live in a city where we're shuffling people around in the system until the end of that process? Or are we going to be a city of problem solvers trying to address situations in a meaningful way, and get to the bottom of what's going on? Because that's the city I want to live in. I know we can have policies like this. So let's go forward and pass this legislation, making New York safer.”