HAMPTON TOWNSHIP — The Hampton Township police chief said there’s a need for social workers to help get to the root of problems when officers are responding to certain calls.
That’s why for the first time ever, the township has hired a full-time social worker for the police department.
The police chief said his department is only the second police force in the state to do this, and hopes more do the same.
Angela Kenbok, the social worker with Hampton Township Police, plays a key role when joining officers on scene in intense situations. She shared one situation she recently helped de-escalate.
“Officers were called to the scene for somebody who was manic and unmedicated, didn’t have the proper mental health care. So ... I was called to jump in and talk with them and advocate for them to get the right mental health care,” said Kenbok.
Many times, Kenbok helps connect people with the right services afterward.
At this time, she has 55 open cases which involve mental health, substance or domestic abuse, or other issues. She works with officers daily.
“Whether that’s them handing me a direct referral, or talk to me with a certain case or help certain individuals, the relationship between myself and the officers is crucial to my job, because we need that collaboration between each other to offer the best services to the community,” said Kenbok.
Last summer, the idea of social workers responding to certain calls with police became the topic of a nationwide discussion.
Around that time, Slippery Rock University reached out to Hampton Township Police Department to offer its students getting their master’s degree in social work as social work interns.
The internship program was so successful that the township created a paid social services coordinator position.
“The reason I brought social workers in as police officers, we all know we don’t have the answers to everything we go on domestic calls, we go on mental health case calls. drug alcohol abuse calls. So the problem for us is we can respond to that crisis immediately and put a Band-Aid on it, but often with a lot of these calls that we go to, the problems are more deeply rooted than that, and we don’t have the expertise or the time to deal with those,” said Chief Thomas Vulakovich of Hampton Township Police.
Slippery Rock University is expanding the program to other police departments that want to have social workers on staff.
“We have definitely seen an increase. We started with Hampton and it has grown. It looks like we may have six departments for next year, so I think thanks to Chief Vulakovich and Hampton Township, we’re seeing the benefit — and other departments are recognizing that,” said Yvonne Eaton-Stull, the Master’s in Social Work (MSW) program director at Slippery Rock University.
Right now, the university has between 10 and 15 interns in its MSW program for next year who can help local police departments.