Community discusses social work, crime

By Armando Machado Jr. and Colin Froment – 1851 Staff

The Lasell Village ballroom was host to a panel discussion entitled, “Mightier Than the Sword: The Promise of Social Work and Police” on October 24.  It was presented by Sarah Abbott, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice, and hosted by the RoseMary B. Fuss Center for Research on Aging and Intergenerational Studies. The discussion was held to raise awareness and to prevent police related violence. About 40 people were in attendance, including students, village residents, and faculty.    

The panel discussion provided statistics on the amount of people across America who have been killed by police. Most of the people shown as examples were suffering from mental illness or impaired intelligence. A video was also shown detailing interviews with several law enforcement officials on how they handle criminals and what the best treatment is.

Abbott, who is also the Director of the Jail Diversion Programs for Advocates Inc., offered solutions to reduce the number of deaths from excessive police violence or police shootings, including the three step “Jail Diversion Program.” This focused on improving the overall attitudes of police officers and the placement of the mentally ill. After the presentation, guests were allowed to ask questions or raise discussion topics about Abbott’s plans.

Abbott has taught and worked with police on how they can better handle confrontational situations with those who suffer from mental health issues. Abbott stressed the importance of communicating with perpetrators rather than using force as their first option. Some police officers have developed an “over reliance on the belt,” according to Abbott.

Considering that people with mental health disabilities make up about one third of those killed by law enforcement, her message of “compassionate justice” is one that police stations across Massachusetts have benefited from. Abbott has already presented this topic state-wide and hopes to expand her presentations throughout the rest of New England.

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