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Local governments bring social work to public safety, activist remains unconvinced

Posted at 11:22 PM, Mar 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-22 23:22:07-04

INDIANA — Two central Indiana cities are adding new positions to reform criminal justice through resources and mental health support.

Fishers City Council voted on Monday night to hire a social worker to provide mental health resources to the community, and Carmel police announced on March 2 that it would be bringing in a crisis intervention manager for a similar role.

These moves come two years after people around the world took to the streets to demand change in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Criminal justice, social justice, and mental health resources were at the forefront of many discussions.

“We want these things, but we don't want to show them in the line items of our budgets. The budgets are moral documents that show our priorities as a city, and our priorities in our community, and we are not prioritizing anything more than law enforcement,” said Mat Davis, co-chair of the Indiana Racial Justice Alliance.

IRJA wants Indiana to shift its approach to criminal justice, among other things. It was formed two years ago to keep the momentum of the 2020 protests going to push for long-term, ongoing change in communities.

Two years later, some local governments are making the transition. The vote to bring a social worker to Fishers was unanimous in the city council.

“This is the number one resource that the community has expressed and the schools have expressed that we need this role now,” said Crystal Neumann, councilor for the North Central district.

Neumann said the position will be grant-funded for two years, but that is just the beginning.

"My hope is that this role shows that this is that successful (and) that we can extend it and get more social workers," said Neumann.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett has also pledged to create a pilot program for a robust clinician-led emergency response team earlier this month.

But all of these efforts leave Davis feeling skeptical.

"The promise and the attention around it can be encouraging, inspiring, maybe provide an example, as a pilot, but a lot of times, we don't see these go for the long haul," he said.

After decades of disappointment, Davis said he'll need more than words and ideas to build back trust.

“I can only really assess things from the results. Especially as someone, myself, who is from one of these communities that is most affected by this," he said.