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U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona praises police social work project

Published on April 29, 2022

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona praises police social work project

Eastern hosts inaugural ‘Boots on the Ground’ celebration

Isabel Logan, Eastern social work professor and co-director of the SWLE Project, presents pre-recorded remarks by U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona praises the SWLE Project in pre-recorded remarks for the 'Boots on the Ground' celebration.

Eastern Connecticut State University hosted the first capstone celebration for the Social Work and Law Enforcement (SWLE) Project on April 22 in the Shafer Hall Auditorium. Titled “Boots on the Ground,” the event commemorated the inaugural year of a statewide collaboration that is formalizing the emerging field of police social work.

In addition to highlighting the program’s current students, officers and organizers, the event featured pre-recorded remarks from U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. Students in the project also presented on their experiences in the field, working with clients as police social work interns.  

The first-of-its-kind project began in fall 2020, when two Eastern social work student interns were embedded into the Willimantic Police Department (WPD) to support officers on mental health and other nonviolent calls that could benefit from the skills of a social worker. The pilot internship evolved into a statewide collaboration that is now training students from seven universities to work with officers from four municipal police departments.

“I’m heartened by programs like the Social Work and Law Enforcement Project,” said Cardona, a Connecticut native who comes from a family of police officers and public servants. “This program can help prevent the punishment of people with mental health challenges by connecting them with a strong support network… Through this program, people can get the long-term follow up and care they need by connecting with a trained social worker.”

Not only is this the first such project in the state, but Eastern professor and licensed clinical social worker Isabel Logan says it is likely the first specialized training program in the country that prepares social workers and police officers to work alongside each other. Logan, who serves as the SWLE’s co-director, spearheaded the partnership with the Willimantic Police Department following the passage of CT Public Act 20-1, “An Act Concerning Police Accountability,” in July 2020.

In addition to Eastern, the SWLE Project is training students from Central, Southern and Western Connecticut State Universities, Sacred Heart University, the University of St. Joseph and Fordham University, who in turn are interning with police departments in Willimantic, Norwich, Stamford and Milford. 

“As an Eastern alumnus and Willimantic police officer of nearly 18 years, I couldn’t be prouder that this project has its roots in Willimantic,” said Lt. Matthew Solak, the project’s other co-director. “It really speaks to the tenacity and to the dreams that people in our community have about working together in a community partnership that is bringing together social work students and professionals alongside law enforcement for the first time ever in the state of Connecticut.”

Co-directors of the SWLE Project, Professor Isabel Logan and Lt. Matthew Solak.

Event moderators Captain DelMonte of the Milford Police Department and Sergeant Nicolas Rankin of the Norwich Police Department.

PSW interns Tina Marie James, Arielle Mendoza Ozuna and Daniella Cervetta ’20 present on the history of police social work.

Willimantic PSW interns Emily Constantino ’21 (MSW program, University of Saint Joseph) and Eastern senior Connor Pollick present on the history of the SWLE Project.

Case Studies

Illustrating the benefits of police social workers (PSWs), seven current SWLE interns at the undergraduate and graduate levels presented case studies on specific clients they’ve worked with through their host police departments.

Eastern alumna Emily Constantino ’21, a recent graduate of the University of Saint Joseph’s MSW program, is one of the project’s original PSW interns in Willimantic. One of her clients was a 61-year-old white male with substance abuse and mental health issues, including suicidal ideation. Primarily over the phone, she met with the man on a weekly basis, using motivational interviewing to build rapport and crisis intervention during his emotional episodes. She also helped to refer him to outside agencies for additional support.

Constantino said these interventions and continued contact resulted in him being connected to additional support services, decreased hostility toward the police and decreased frequency in calls to the police department.    

Eastern alumna Francelis Gonzalez-Perez ’20, a graduate MSW student from Fordham University, presented a particularly dramatic case study on her experience interning with the Norwich Police Department. She and an officer were the first on the scene as a distressed man threatened to jump from a bridge. The daytime incident developed into a spectacle as onlookers dared him to jump.


Willimantic Police Chief Paul Hussey.

Vice President for Equity and Diversity LaMar Coleman presents greetings on behalf of Eastern President Elsa Núñez.

Representatives from the Windham branch of the NAACP give remarks.

Robert Madden, social work professor at the University of St. Joseph and director of practice standards of the SWLE Project.

Gonzalez-Perez assisted in de-escalation with the client and crowd, and also provided support for the onlooking family while serving as a liaison for Crisis Services. These efforts in concert with the police resulted in a safe removal of the client from the bridge and earned Gonzalez-Perez a unit citation award from the Norwich Police Department.

“This is really illustrative of the benefits of collaboration,” said Sgt. Nicolas Rankin from Norwich. “To have someone on the scene… someone who doesn’t appear to be a threat… a trained, competent person who can work with the family and pass (the client) on to a higher level of care. Social workers represent a friendly face to people in crisis, they’re more approachable.”

Senior Connor Pollick is a current Eastern social work student interning with the Willimantic police. He described a 42-year-old Hispanic female with high stress due to her dealings with a difficult 20-year old son and five younger children. Pollick helped connect the woman to resources for her children and support groups.

“If the client and I had not met, she’d still be struggling with minimal support,” said Pollick. “I’m now a part of her growing support system. Had the police accountability bill not been in place, this client may have fallen through the cracks.”

Eastern alumna Daniella Cervetta ’20, a graduate MSW student at Sacred Heart University, described a similar case. The Milford Police Department intern has been working with an unemployed 55-year-old white female from an affluent neighborhood who is coping with a traumatic divorce. The client has made more than 30 calls to the police in the past two years concerning feuds with her daughter.

“The client blames her daughter for the toxic atmosphere in the house without recognizing her own behavior,” said Cervetta. “She’s normalized police intervention as an appropriate response to dealing with her daughter.” Cervetta has been working to develop her client’s parenting and communication strategies.

“This is work the police would love to do, but we just don’t have enough hours in the day,” said Lt. Solak in a previous interview. “If we spend all our time following up on mental health calls, we wouldn’t have time to do anything else.”

Willimantic Police Chief Paul Hussey agreed: “I’m grateful for the support of our partners at Eastern and thankful for the hard work of all my officers and the social work students who assist them in protecting and serving the citizens of this city.”

Written by Michael Rouleau