Police Assisted Referral | Help is on the Way

The Police Assisted Referral (PAR) program continues building bridges between law enforcement and the community it serves

By Matthew K. Weiland

Cleveland, OH–The gulf often separating police on patrol from the general public they’re trying to protect can often be bridged with the simple act of extending a hand and presenting a business card.

Welcome to the Police Assisted Referral (PAR) program, a collaboration among the Begun Center for Violence Prevention and the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA), FrontLine, and the Partnership for a Safer Cleveland.

View video overview of PAR Program

“Look at a police officer’s duty belt,” says Mark Singer, PhD, Deputy-Director of the Begun Center and PAR program principle investigator. “We give police officers a gun. Ammunition. A Taser An asp. Handcuffs. Gloves to pat people down. Everything on the duty belt is for arrests or deterrence.

“But there hasn’t traditionally been one thing on that belt for what police are doing 80-90% of their time. And that’s assisting and helping people, if only pointing them in the right direction for services.”

A recent article — co-authored by, among others, Dr. Singer and Begun Center Research Assistant and doctoral candidate Jenni Bartholomew, appearing in the December issue of the Law Enforcement Executive Forum — highlights the PAR program’s success in “training law enforcement to be first social responders”.

The Regular Beat

Dr. Singer cites studies showing that for a regular police officer on a routine patrol – either driving in a cruiser or walking a beat – the majority of his or her time is dedicated to ‘service’ calls – non-arrest situations. “Only 10-20% of their time is spent on arrests,” he explains.

Through the PAR program, police officers now have a mechanism to connect people to services with a simple phone call. “We give officers something on the duty belt for what they’re spending most of their time on: An embossed leather card case containing business cards with information and referral numbers.” 

The PAR program works this way:

An officer on patrol encountering a resident in need dials a central number and provides a resident’s contact information, along with basic information involving the circumstances and situations facing the individual or family.

Then, within 24 to 48 hours, Cuyahoga County’s Mental Health Services, Inc. – now called FrontLine – reaches out to the person in need, inquiring as to the status of the issue, the need for immediate interventions or further referrals, and whether the individual would like a Frontline representative to come out to the home for further assistance.

“The officers get training in how to recognize problems and issues and how to deal with people in need of mental health services,” says Dr. Singer. “They also get trained in a quick-triage type of assistance when time is tight and immediacy and urgency is called for.”

Ultimately, he says, everyone agrees that police officers are not social workers. Yet they can put a person who needs one in touch with one, making that phone call.

A Fundamental Change in Perspective

Funded for the past two years by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Cleveland Foundation, the Saint. Luke’s Foundation, and the Sisters of Charity Foundation, PAR is a program with the potential to fundamentally change the attitudes, interactions, and relationships between a neighborhood and the police protecting and serving it.

Mark Singer, who frequently accompanies CMHA police units out on patrol – assessing the program and ensuring it’s working right – cites data culled from surveys of individuals who received PAR services, surveys conducted over a two-year period that ultimately asked a fundamental question: As a result of PAR, how has your opinion of police officers changed. The results:

– It’s improved: 39%
– It’s the same: 56%
– It’s gotten worse: 4%

“Over a third of the respondents said that their opinion of the police improved through their participation in the PAR program,” he says. “We hear neighborhood residents saying things like, ‘The officer saved my life’ and ‘It’s nice to know that you can count on the police for more than just arresting.’”

He also notes that the PAR program has also proved exceptionally helpful in boosting police morale.

“Police officers love it,” says Dr. Singer. “We did two focus groups with police – one before their participation in PAR and then one after – and what we hear from them is very encouraging. They say, ‘I can sleep at night, now. I’d have to leave these events saying, Well, you know, I arrested him, but man, that family is in deep trouble. Now, I know I got the family, or can get the family, help. And it takes me sixty seconds. I phone in. Give the name. The service follows up. And I’ve helped someone.’”

The other thing that officers cite is the new relationship they experience with the people they’ve helped; citizens stop them on the street now to thank them for pointing them in the right direction. Thank them for helping them get help.

“And this is happening in the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city,” says Dr. Singer, “with citizens who are often the most alienated and the poorest who often distrust police. That’s the amazing part.”

Additional Resources

Partnership For a Safer Cleveland

The Partnership For A Safer Cleveland was founded in 1981 by Louis Paisley, then the president of the Cleveland Bar Association. It was originally named the “Task Force on Violent Crime” and its goal was to address issues of violence and create solutions to the problems. This was accomplished through thoughtful study and diligent action taken by representatives from business, community, law enforcement, human services, courts and schools.

Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) Police
The Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority Police Department is a state-certified law enforcement agency and is nationally accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). Sworn police officers of the CMHA Police Department are certified by the Ohio Peace Officers Training Commission and have full police arrest powers. They enforce all city, state, and federal laws, as well as agency policies and procedures. The CMHA Police Department provides quality law enforcement service to residents, employees, and visitors of CMHA properties located throughout Cuyahoga County. The Department provides policing services to CMHA residents 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year-round and has an authorized staff of approximately 135.