Milford police add two social workers to the ranks

MILFORD — The city’s police department is one of four in Connecticut to have full-time social workers in its ranks, after the hiring of Caitlyn Capela and Tina Marie James earlier this year.

Captain Garon DelMonte said the additions were long overdue.

“The social work aspect of this allows the proper follow up to cases and crises that we don’t always have the ability to follow up on,” DelMonte said. “So they will hopefully prevent escalation in a crisis for us.”

DelMonte said other departments to have social workers, but only Milford, Norwich, Willimantic and Stamford have thoroughly integrated them.

“We all participate in the Social Work and Law Enforcement Project,” said DelMonte. “That is where we get our interns from, and from there we can build a bigger program. So we are one of the first to fully embed, not one but two full-time social workers because they are police department employees.”

Capela was hired by the Milford Police Department in January, and James the following month. Capela said their experience so far has been great.

“A lot of people would think that we wouldn’t feel welcome as we are, but we feel extremely welcomed, appreciated and part of the team,” said Capela. “We’ve been extremely busy since the start date. I don’t think there’s been any slowly getting started.”

The day-to-day work for both Capela and James can change rapidly, from reviewing phone calls coming through the police portal to being asked to go on-scene.

“We are getting calls, and we are getting referrals,” James said. “Officers come into the office and tell us something happened and they believe the person would benefit from either speaking with us or need help being pointed in the right direction so they can get help. The line of communication has been phenomenal.”

Capela said the job keeps her constantly engaged.

“You might come with the intent that you’re going to make all these follow-up calls, catch up on some emails, and before you know it, someone has come in,” she said. “Or they want us to go out to a call and meet with a person.”

DelMonte said the addition of social workers within the department is currently being paid for by the American Rescue Plan Act funds that Milford received in 2021. The federal dollars will fund the program for the next two years, but he said the department hopes to sustain the new positions permanently.

Having social workers embedded within the police department allows everyone to focus on what they’ve been trained to do, James said.

“I believe what has been happening is that a lot of police officers have been thrust into a position where they are being a therapist, trying to police and keep the neighborhood safe,” she said.

Capela said a significant percentage of the police calls in recent years have been about mental health, and it’s unrealistic to expect police officers to be both social workers and police officers.

“I think that there is a very big intersection between social work and law enforcement that many are not aware of unless you are in either field,” said Capela. “The more that you can work together and collaborate the better that you can serve and help the community.”

The two Milford social workers also have started to build partnerships with the other service providers in the community.

“We are working together as a team despite our location with the other agencies,” said James. “It definitely takes a village with these types of situations.”

A person in crisis can take a lot of different forms and shapes, said DelMonte.

“Law enforcement by itself can’t handle all of that,” he said. “They can’t adequately address the root of all those issues, but when we partner with the social workers, and other community providers, we can hopefully create some sort of network, to get people in our community the services they need that are appropriate for their situation.”