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NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

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June 12, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

The American Enterprise Institute’s Naomi Schaefer Riley has a somewhat tongue-in-cheek piece here that’s well worth reading (Wall Street Journal, 6/8/20).

As all the world now knows, the Minneapolis City Council has voted to disband the police and “replace” them with mental health professionals and, apparently, vigilantes.  Here’s what they told the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Monday, June 8:

“This is the beginning of the process of putting together a “police-free future,” they vowed, by investing in more community initiatives like mental health and having community members respond to public safety issues.”

To my mind, that’s one of the nuttiest ideas I’ve seen in a long time.  Aside from the fact that we actually do need the police to protect us from crime and that relying on “community members to respond to public safety issues” is another term for vigilantism, the state-issued municipal charter for the City of Minneapolis requires that the city council establish a police force.  So it’s beginning to look like the council didn’t exactly do its homework.  What it’s resolved to do appears to be ultra vires, i.e. beyond its power.

But Riley’s point, and it’s a good one, runs something like this: we already know how social workers deal with the public; just look at Child Protective Services.  I might put it this way: if you don’t like the police, ask a parent who’s dealt with CPS how they like social services. 

The problem with the police that’s being complained of now is that they too often abuse their power and, when they do, it tends to be with impunity.  I call that a fair criticism, but I also notice that it applies equally to CPS.  I’ve written about CPS overreach time and again over the years, about how they routinely bypass due process of law to do what they want, how they threaten parents, how they take kids from perfectly good, loving homes, how secrecy shrouds almost everything they do and how caseworkers often engage in a conspiracy of silence about what goes on behind the closed doors of the agency.

Again, that sounds a lot like the complaints against police.  Riley adds her own two cents.

“Social workers have a high turnover rate—about 30% a year nationwide and as high as 65% in some agencies, according to a report by Casey Family Programs. That means the workforce tends to be young and inexperienced. “For those workers who remain on the job,” Penn State sociologist Sarah Font writes, “burnout manifests in the workplace as work avoidance, apathy toward the well-being of clients, and feelings of cynicism and futility.”

As a replacement for the police, that doesn’t look promising.

Then of course there’s the issue of racism that’s sparked the demonstrations and riots of the past days.  Well, CPS has the same problem.

“And racial disparities are an issue in child welfare as with police. Agencies are often accused of racism because social workers remove a disproportionate number of minority children from their homes. (There are reasons for these disparities besides racism, like a larger percentage of black homes with unrelated men, but social workers are no more likely than police to address this issue.) In a practice activists call “Jane Crow,” social workers subject black mothers to low-level surveillance—some call it harassment.”

That too doesn’t promise a big improvement over the current status quo.

Plus, social workers, unlike the police, aren’t taught the basics of our constitutional rights, despite the fact that they work for the state and supposedly have to do so within constitutional strictures.

They aren’t taught about the rights of the accused and the rules of evidence. As lawyer Diane Redleaf chronicles in her 2018 book, “They Took the Kids Last Night,” in some cases social workers will continue to monitor parents or keep their children away even when police think no evidence supports a claim of abuse. Ms. Redleaf documents how social workers sometimes keep parents in an extralegal limbo, requiring them to take parenting classes or jump through other hoops, and then threaten to take legal action if they don’t.

Why anyone would believe that sic-ing social workers on the problem of crime is a good idea remains a mystery.  They have only to look at decades of actual evidence about what happens when state-employed social workers intervene in family life to know that, whatever our current problems, they’re not the solution.

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