The School of Social Work (SoSW) at Southern has worked in both the Collegedale and Greater Chattanooga areas over the years to help uplift those communities. In its most recent project, the SoSW partnered with the Chattanooga Police Department. The partnership, “Enhancing Law Enforcement Response to Victims” (ELERV), aims to enhance understanding about the relationship between local law enforcement and the surrounding communities and to address the issues of systemic injustice.
Kristie Wilder, a professor in the SoSW, works firsthand with ELERV. The inspiration for the project came from another partnership, according to Wilder.
“We [the SoSW] were working with the Family Justice Center, helping victims of intimate partner violence,” Wilder said.
From there, an interest in working with the police began to grow. The five-year project began by studying victims, according to Wilder.
“We studied how the police department was interacting with the victims, and if they were using best practices,” Wilder said. “We started with the community, and it grew into talking with the cadets in the police academy in order to gain the perspectives of those entering the field.”
The SoSW worked with the police academy in creating a poverty simulation, which all new cadets must go through before graduation. The SoSW currently facilitates the “Shared Responsibility” simulation.
On Oct.12, 2020, the first part of a seminar was hosted via webinar by the SoSW and included a panel of educators, police and clergy addressing issues of systemic injustice. The webinar is available for viewing online.
According to the SoSW website, “The virtual conversation highlighted the shared responsibility for all, especially Christians, to be a part of the change necessary for community healing and restoration. The conversation also emphasized the five-year collaborative research efforts of the Chattanooga Police Department and the School of Social Work.”
Currently, the Chattanooga Chief of Police wants more research done for this project, according to Wilder.
“We were invited — myself and the victims service coordinator, by the IACP to be contracted as consultants for other agencies,” Wilder said.
The SoSW is preparing to expand their virtual presentation to other police academies in a couple of weeks.