Public Safety, Public Trust
Public safety is not just another word for the police department, it can and must go far beyond policing. Our city’s public safety depends on having a robust network of agencies that can work together to create a safer and better city, including everything from Child Protective Services and the Department of Senior Affairs to mental health resources and emergency medical response. Right now these agencies are underfunded, overworked, and sometimes asked to take on a role that isn’t appropriate for their department’s purpose, like teachers trying to act as social workers and police called in on health crises. The problems of the APD and the high cost of paying someone to monitor them have taken up a lot of the public conversation and budget around public safety, but they should be only a part of a broader, healthy network of agencies caring for our most vulnerable citizens.
What do our most vulnerable populations need? We need social services for seniors and poor people that don’t require people to have absolutely nothing before they are eligible for services, so that people can use our city’s safety net before they burn through what’s left of their savings, not after. We need social workers who feel that they have well-funded, functional resources to offer their clients, and caseloads that allow them to make each client a priority. We need to provide our Child Protective Service workers and school employees with an infrastructure that can handle the traumatized and service-resistant children, no matter how that trauma manifests itself, so that our these kids aren’t just forced into juvenile incarceration system.
This might seem overly ambitious, but the skeleton of this structure already exists. Right now, the resources that do exist are hard to navigate without a professional social worker, which isn’t always available or appropriate. This means many resources are underused and therefore wind up getting underfunded, or that these services are so little-known that they wind up being replicated by non-government charities and organizations just to reach the people who need them. This is wasteful and redundant, and could be solved with a better-managed 311 hotline, a more user-friendly website, or even a one-stop office where there are workers available to explain and search for services for you. Cutting back on this waste and working with nonprofits to make these services more accessible and well-publicized could save money that could go to funding the social safety net we need.