Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $520,040)
We propose a randomized field experiment to evaluate adding a social worker to a police outreach team tasked with helping vulnerable people. Across the country, cities are discussing re-allocating resources around public health challenges. Police regularly encounter the mentally ill, homeless individuals, or people with drug addiction, and increasingly recognize the value in helping these people into treatment or shelter. Research shows that moving to a treatment facility is associated with positive outcomes across a range of morbidities, and by facilitating this, police can achieve long-term public safety and victimization reduction goals. We will answer the question of whether the inclusion to the team of a civilian outreach worker significantly increases the rate by which vulnerable people can be conveyed to a shelter or treatment facility.
A team of contracted outreach workers will be randomly assigned to shifts working alongside a team of Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) transit officers. The control condition will be the police team working alone. During at least 520 control or intervention duty tours, officers or outreach workers (over one year) will initiate ‘treatment conversations’ with people struggling with homelessness, mental illness, or drug addiction, and who are drawn to the sixth largest transit system in the country. Two related outcomes represent intermediate and ultimate goals. ‘Agree to transport’ indicates the person is willing to be transported to a shelter or treatment facility, while a ‘treatment initiation’ represents the ultimate goal of delivering a person to a facility.
This is a collaboration between SEPTA police department, who will independently contract the social service/treatment provider, and an experienced research team from Temple University. The research design is a pragmatic plan grounded in the realities of treatment availability and public safety needs. Shift block randomization across a one-year implementation
will ensure both a spread of treatment duty tours throughout each week, and sufficient treatment conversations to produce adequate experimental power. Statistical analyses will generate estimates of the differential impacts of demographics and situations. Qualitative research will verify the experimental fidelity and generate contextual insight into the statistical patterns that emerge. Field observations will also illuminate replication lessons for other jurisdictions.
The research team will create 2-3-page pdfs to disseminate the results to the police professional community. A website, archived data with NACJD, and free access academic journal articles will provide an ongoing resource, and videos will help disseminate the key findings in a more accessible format. CA/NCF