By Danielle Church
Killeen Daily Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS - Pending approval of the fiscal year 2011-12 budget, the Harker Heights Police Department might add a social worker to its staff.
"The goal and the motivation behind it was to try and find a methodology to provide social services to people in need of a quicker, more effective way," said HHPD Chief Mike Gentry.
During a City Council workshop last week, Gentry said the new position would be part of a Healthy Homes Project and work with domestic violence agencies, such as Aware Central Texas as well as the Central Texas Family Violence Task Force.
"The plan is to implement a very innovative concept - to hire a trained social worker within the police department to link the other sources together and try to break the cycle of (violence)," Gentry said. "We want to close the gap between the people who need the services and people who provide them."
And while violence, such as child abuse may not be an issue for the city of Harker Heights alone, Gentry said Bell County as a whole has seen high levels of abuse.
"This person is going to be the only one in the county to have this expert knowledge of the different agencies," Gentry said during the workshop on Tuesday.
Councilman Sam Murphey voiced concern about Harker Heights being the sole provider of the program for the county and asked Gentry why HHPD chose to take on the task.
"This project is a Harker Heights project and will always be a Harker Heights project," Gentry said. "But in my world, none of us stand alone, and I will make it available as much as we can afford to make it available to neighboring agencies."
Councilman Pat Christ agreed with Gentry saying, "The borders are just a street name and number."
The proposed social worker's major duties would include conducting follow-ups on police calls and making sure people who need help from specific agencies have referrals and/or appointments, whether day or night. The person also would be responsible for keeping track of services within the area for residents in need.
"We wanted to create a position that would be able to bridge the gap between police services and social services," Gentry said. "So this individual will be trained as a social worker and educated along those lines."
The police department also plans to have what Gentry calls a "monthly clearing house," where the agencies can come together in one location and answer questions from people seeking help.
"We're very hopeful that it's going to be a very beneficial program, so that homes will be healthier, and (people) have the skills and resources necessary to help themselves," Gentry said.
HHPD wants the proposed social worker to intervene and help people solve their problems before they spiral out of control and police officers have to be called, he said.
"This is (an) unique program that is not done, to my knowledge, anywhere in the United States," Gentry said.
City Manager Steve Carpenter, supporting Gentry's plan during the council workshop, said, "We do have people on board right now, and if it's ever going to be successful, now would be the time."
Contact Danielle Church at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7567.