On Monday, a bit after noon, a half dozen protesters gathered at the west entrance of the Monroe County convention center.
They confronted Bloomington chief of police Mike Diekhoff as he arrived at the National Conference on Police Social Work. Diekhoff didn’t break stride as he entered the building, but greeted one of the demonstrators by name: “Hi, Alex, how are you!”
The three-day conference, which started Monday, was organized and is hosted by Bloomington’s police department. The idea that BPD would host a conference on police social work fits with the fact that BPD was the first police agency in the state of Indiana to hire a full-time social worker to be embedded in the department.
It’s the embedding of social workers in police departments that demonstrators were protesting against.
Calling themselves “abolitionist social workers,” they don’t think an organizational structure that puts social workers under the control of the police is consistent with the ethics of the social work profession. What they’d like to see abolished is policing itself.
As masters of social work student Grace Mitchell put it, as they spoke through a megaphone pointed toward the open convention center door, “There is little evidence that [social workers’] presence will reduce the disproportionate use of lethal force against Black, Latinx, or indigenous people.”
Mitchell continued, “It will not prevent [police] from patrolling certain communities over others, while serving the interests of gentrifiers, and will not demilitarize them. It will not hold them accountable for misconduct or abuse.”
Later inside the convention center, after the first day’s keynote speech, Diekhoff described to The B Square his department’s approach to asking social workers to respond to non-criminal situations. He called it a “co-response” of police officers and social workers.
Diekhoff said, “When people don’t know who to call, they call the police. We’re responding. We’re coming up with another way to respond—which is what everybody’s talking about, which is all these co-response things. That’s what this is.” Continue reading “Dissent from some social workers, as Bloomington’s national conference on police social work kicks off”