City commissions discusses adding social worker, victim’s advocate to NPD roster

Published 11:30 am Friday, November 10, 2023

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The Nicholasville City Commission held its monthly workshop meeting on Monday and heard a presentation from the Nicholasville Police Department (NPD) Chief of Police Michael Fleming and Captain Alexis Jones about adding two new positions to the department: a social worker and a victim’s advocate.

Workshop meetings allow the commission and mayor to hear longer presentations for items that they wouldn’t typically discuss in the meetings.

Currently, the Jessamine County Sheriff’s Office has a victim advocate named Taunya Northrup.

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She has been with the sheriff’s office for around two decades and does a lot for the community, but the city commission agrees with Fleming and Jones that both law enforcement agencies need a victim’s advocate.

Fleming said that regarding Northrup’s position, grant funding from the state that keeps the program going continues to reduce yearly.

To start their presentation, Fleming and Jones showed a broadcast news story that presented interviews with social workers who work in multiple Kentucky police departments.

“Police departments across the nation are starting to move to this model to employ social workers to handle the new climate that we have – the homelessness, the overdoses, substance abuse, the mental health crisis. There’s just so many areas that, quite frankly, police officers are not equipped to deal with,” Fleming said.

Jones describes the two positions as being able to provide social services to the community since the department for children and families is “bogged down,” as she describes it.

The social worker would deal directly with victims and families in crisis. This individual will only come on the scene with the officers if the scene is safe at first- they’ll usually come back and visit after the initial police visit to offer resources to the individuals in need. There’s only one exception. If there is some negotiation crisis, the social worker would need to be on the scene from the beginning of the first visit.

Jones and Fleming say these positions would offer, at the very least, better service to the residents of Jessamine County.

“We have to serve our people better than we’re doing now,” Jones said.

She and Fleming believe that if the NPD, EMS, and the fire department can refer repeat callers to a city social worker, then individuals will get the resources that they need- whether that’s anger management classes, rehabilitation facility information, or any other resource that police officers don’t have the time or bandwidth to provide

“So many of our calls are not police related, they’re social work-related, but we don’t have one to send out. I can’t tell you how often people have called the police because their kid won’t go to school,” Fleming said.

Other countries have seen that adding one or more social workers to their police department can take almost 15 percent off of police officer’s repeat caller volume.

The victims’ advocate would be a separate position.

The victim’s advocate works similarly to the social worker- they can’t arrest anyone, but they can be present and available for victims needing support. Jones said that over the last five months, the NPD has answered 527 calls related to domestic violence.

All commissioners and Mayor Alex Carter gave the chief and captain their blessings to move forward, start writing job descriptions, and meet with human resources to finalize them.

Commissioner Bethany Brown stated her support, citing the family and supporters of 22-year-old Desman LaDuke, who was killed by police in October of 2022 during a response to a mental health crisis call.

“We’ve had people in the community literally come and beg us to do something like this,” she said.

Also, in this meeting, the city commission heard an update about the summer concert series from Charla Reed, the executive director of Visit Jessamine, the county’s joint tourism commission.

“Yes, the concerts went over well. It’s just something that people will have to get used to, but we were excited about how many people came (this summer),” Reed said.

Reed did say that the commission learned a few things after this first summer concert series, and the first is that starting the concerts at 6 p.m. is far too early since people are just getting off work. Because of this, Reed said that next year, the time will likely be changed from 6-10 p.m. to 7-9 p.m.

The second thing Reed said the tourism commission learned is that once August rolls around, high school football is king in Jessamine County.

She said that once the football games started, the crowd got much smaller at the concerts. Due to this, she will change the events from being throughout fall to just being from April to August.

The city also has new heaters used at the November concert and will be used again in December.

Director of general government Doug Blackford said these heaters would also be helpful for other events around the county- at Rock Fence Park, Lake Mingo Park and even funerals.

The next and last concert will be held at the Performance Park in downtown Nicholasville on Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. after the Christmas tree lighting.