Haverhill City Council Backs Police Chief’s Call for a Social Worker to Defuse Crises

Haverhill Police Chief Alan R. DeNaro at the podium in 2017 while Capt. Stephen J. Doherty Jr. listens at left. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Haverhill city councilors backed a proposal by Police Chief Alan R. DeNaro to hire a social worker to help police better work with residents experiencing issues ranging from suicide prevention to drug addiction.

Citing several, recent, high-profile incidents between police and people with mental health issues, DeNaro told the City Council Tuesday he wants to hire a licensed clinical social worker. The chief said he envisions a full-time mental health technician who would ride with the police while on patrol.

“We have been thrust as law enforcement officers into a position of handling a myriad of challenges that people have that really require the expertise of specialists. As police officers, we do the best we can in those situations but they are challenging,” he said.

DeNaro said, over the past three years, police have responded to many calls involving suicides, drug overdoses, domestic violence, runaways and other situations where a social worker would be helpful in defusing the immediate problem and getting help for those individuals as well.

He also told the Council he has discussed the idea with people from Lahey Clinic who estimated the cost would likely be about $75,000 per year.

Council Vice President Colin F. LePage, who introduced the subject, called DeNaro’s plan an important tool in the toolbox. Councilor Timothy J. Jordan was receptive to the plan.

“Sometimes we’re expecting too much from officers, but they shouldn’t be asked to be mental health councilors as well. And, $75,000 in a budget of over $200 million seems like that would be money well spent,” Jordan said.

LePage proposed, and the Council passed unanimously, to send a letter to Mayor James J. Fiorentini asking him to consider the proposal.

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