Career As a Police Social Worker

A police social worker may work with troubled teenagers.
i Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images
A police social worker may work with troubled teenagers.

Ask any of your buddies, and they’ll say you’re one of the most helpful and supportive friends they have. You’re always ready to lend a sympathetic ear, and you usually have good suggestions when a problem rears its ugly head. Those qualities could be put to good use in a career as a social worker and, more specifically, in police social work. It's a job where you can help to meet community needs in areas such as mental health, domestic violence and juvenile delinquency.

Education and Licensing

The first step is to complete your education. Although you might be able to work in some areas or social work with a bachelor’s degree, a master’s in social work will give you more career options. Social workers fall into two main groups. Direct service is just what it sounds like: helping people cope with or solve day-to-day problems in their lives. Clinical social workers, however, diagnose and treat mental health problems and behavioral and emotional issues. Clinical social workers do require a master’s degree and must be licensed in all states. Some states also require a license for direct service social workers.

Service-Related Functions

You might not realize that about 80 percent of police functions are service-related rather than crime-related. Dr. George T. Patterson, an assistant professor at the Hunter College School of Social Work, says service-related functions include tasks such as mediating family disputes, resolving conflicts, crisis intervention, mediation and referrals for services. Social workers who work in police departments, according to Patterson, are ideally placed to provide services to community residents in collaboration with police officers. Much of this work falls in the direct-services category. Clinical social workers may also provide mental health services to police officers and their families.

Special Skills and Knowledge

Police social workers need some additional skills besides those common to the average social worker, according to Patterson. They must be able to understand the law enforcement culture and procedures. Law enforcement is a paramilitary environment, and you’ll need to be able to function effectively within that environment and build rapport with officers, as well as a diverse community. Patterson says the most comprehensive use of police social workers is in Illinois and Wisconsin, where more than 35 police departments employ social workers to provide services in areas such as domestic violence, elder abuse and mental health. Boston, Massachusetts, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, also have police social workers.

Duties and Salary

As a police social worker, your duties could vary widely. You could work with alcohol and drug offenders, providing treatment, life skills or basic competency training. You could help an offender find housing, job training or counseling. You could work in victim assistance programs or serve as an expert witness. You might provide counseling, direct service or referrals for homeless teenagers. Social work is a profession that is projected to grow 25 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Although the BLS does not specifically track police social workers, salaries in 2011 ranged from $44,410 for child, family and school social workers to $54,220 for all other social workers.

2016 Salary Information for Social Workers

Social workers earned a median annual salary of $47,460 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, social workers earned a 25th percentile salary of $36,790, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $60,790, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 682,000 people were employed in the U.S. as social workers.

the nest