Milford social workers an asset to department, police chief says

MILFORD — When the police department hired two social workers earlier this year, Milford became one of only four communities in the state to have a full-time social worker in the ranks.

At the most recent police commission meeting, Chief Keith Mello explained the roles the social workers serve. The two, Tina Marie James and Caitlyn Capela, serve more in support rather than "front line" service, he said.

"It is their role to connect people with appropriate services, and if it is during their working hours, they go to a scene if the scene is safe and their skills can help," he said.

For example, in July of last year Officer Kevin Hilliard responded to a call of a suicidal person.

"A female student had commented about suicide to a friend during a phone conversation," he said. "The call was tracked, and the patrol officer and his K-9 went to Mondo Ponds, where he heard a female crying, and she was approaching chin-deep water."

Hilliard was able to pull the girl back to safety. While the social workers would be able to connect the person with appropriate resources, they wouldn't have a role at the scene in a case like that.

"Our program allows social workers to follow up and bring other social services agencies if necessary," said Mello. "We are dealing with at-risk groups, and certainly, if something occurs during the day shifts, we would use their assistance."

Although police officers have experience dealing with people in an emotional state, Chairman Richard Smith said he felt social workers are more qualified to handle those kinds of calls.

Mello said it was important to note the police department has services available in real time since sometimes it is not apparent that their services will be needed.

"When we talk about homelessness, we have had a number of incidents that require a police response, but we do not know that until the officer arrives at the scene," he said.

Mello said it is vital for the police department to have someone on staff who can triage phone calls.

"Having the social workers employed by the police department makes sense because of the reporting systems and policy in place," he said.