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Franklin Police Social Worker, K-9 Therapy Program Sees Results

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Two years ago, the Franklin Police Department hired its first licensed crisis response officer to help deal with mental health issues.

Since then, the number of referrals Karen Shaffer – who prefers to be called a social worker – has made to other providers has steadily increased. In her role, she meets people in crisis, runaways, homeless people and others in need of help.

She first learned of the job from her old friend, Franklin Police Chief Kirby Cochran, in late 2019 or early 2020. She had worked with the Department of Children’s Services for 13 years, and she and Cochran worked together frequently during this time, she said.

Shaffer was able to develop the program from scratch. Franklin Police is one of only six agencies in the state to have a social worker embedded in the department, and it remains the only agency in Johnson County to do so, she said.

“Nobody really knew what it was supposed to be,” Shaffer said. “We all had an idea of ​​what we wanted to see, but no one really knew how to get there and what to do with it.”


Since Shaffer first joined the department in December. Since February 7, 2020, she has made over 300 referrals to other agencies to help people with mental health, youth and family issues. Other references typically relate to suicide, homelessness and drugs, according to data provided by the Franklin Police Department.

Shaffer does not usually go out to homes at the moment, although there have been a few times when she has been called to a scene by police officers.

Most of the time it’s after the fact or the agent calls me while he’s there and I set up an appointment with that person for the next day or later in the day, depending on the time of day. call is coming, she told me.

There’s no typical appeal either, she says. She has fielded calls involving seniors with dementia, parents with out-of-control children, and people with drug or mental health issues, to name a few.

K-9 Therapy

Along with adding a social worker, Franklin Police also added K-9 therapy: Benny, an Aussie mini-labradoodle mix.

Benny doesn’t usually make calls with Shaffer, who shares manager duties with Cochran.

Sometimes Shaffer makes cold calls to a house, and people may not like dogs or have pets that Benny wouldn’t like. There are also times when she might go from place to place, and having Benny around could be a distraction, Shaffer said.

Benny still has time to shine. It’s been especially helpful for people who may have difficulty opening up about their issues, Shaffer said.

For example, Shaffer sees a person who finds it difficult to open up and have a conversation with them. The individual loves dogs though, and if they gave Benny treats or played with him, they would open up and talk with Shaffer, she said.

“He’s been invaluable with some of these clients that I would never have been able to have conversations with otherwise,” she said.

Benny makes appearances at some PR events with Cochran. It also helps comfort officers during stressful situations, Cochran said.

“When that dog walks into that office, everyone screams for him,” he said. Most people want to see it, and it gets stressful here sometimes. I think he does everything you can ask him to do. »

Data shows benefits

The response to the program, along with Benny, has been excellent. Some officers were hesitant at first, but as the program continued, that hesitation faded, Shaffer said.

For the 60% of people who engaged with Shaffer in the first year of the program, police calls to those people went down by about 75%, she said.

“It’s 75% of the calls that the agents did not have to answer that they could deal with other things, then 75% of the calls that the individuals of the community were able to have other alternatives than the forces of order,” she said.

The decrease in runs is a big bonus, but it’s not always about it, Cochran said. This is to keep officers, firefighters, neighbors and individuals safe, he said.

“Not only are you acknowledging the problem, but you’re also able to provide tools and keep officers and neighbors safe,” Cochran said.

The data also consistently showed they were able to get people help and treatment and eliminate the need for police to intervene, Shaffer said.

“They don’t want to take these people to jail,” she said. “They don’t need the criminal justice system, but they go there again and again and (the officers) have no solution for them.”

Every time agents send her a referral, they want updates on how the person is doing. Giving them that resolve is huge, Shaffer said.

“They deal with a lot of stuff in this job,” she said. “I think being able to give them some resolve has been huge in all the things they deal with on a day-to-day basis.”

The village

A key part of what enables Shaffer to do its job well is what it has dubbed “The Village”: the suppliers and organizations it uses to help those in need.

“We call it The Village because you really need a village in this area,” Shaffer said.

The village started as a small monthly meeting before expanding to 25 organizations in central Indiana. Organizations include the Bowen Center, Franklin Needham Union Township Trustee, Franklin Community Schools, Grace United Methodist Church, Johnson Memorial Health, United Way, and Valle Vista Health System.

Shaffer usually obtains a release from the person before referring them to one of these organizations. She then calls the organization to ask for updates on how they are doing.

“There are a few that I still see myself keeping in touch with,” she said.

For 2023, Village meetings are expected to be more solution-focused. Currently, the number one issue is housing, and the group will brainstorm ideas on how to solve the problem.

“I can’t build new housing,” she says. “I don’t have that kind of fund, but how can we do things differently? »

Expansion possible

In the future, Shaffer would like to see the crisis intervention position expanded by adding another social worker to help with the workload. Much more could be done if there was another person, she said.

At present, she only receives calls from other people and does not actively seek referrals. However, some of that could be eliminated if social workers could get involved sooner, perhaps by going to the police each morning, Shaffer said.

“I can almost guarantee that there are two or three calls every day that are at the pre-crisis stage and if we put in this early intervention they will never reach that level,” Shaffer said.

One of Cochran’s favorite parts of the program is that it’s not a competition. It’s a partnership, and that partnership is no different from the community partnership he frequently advocates, he said.

“We don’t want a program with a dog. Nobody wants that,” Cochran said. “We want a program with a dog and a therapist that sees results in the public, and that’s what we got.”


For those interested in. in learning Following on the franklin Police Departments social worker program, or to Craft a reference to someone in. in need, Contact social worker Karine Shafer. His Contact information is under:

DPF Administration: 317-736-3670

Cell: 317-560-1214

E-mail: [email protected]