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We Met Them Where They Are, But Is It Enough? A Qualitative Examination Of A Co-Response Outreach Program Servicing Vulnerable Populations in Philadelphia

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Awardee County
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $136,485)

The proposed study examines the factors that influence vulnerable populations’ service utilization in the context of a co-response outreach program staffed by police-outreach worker teams. Police departments across the country are responding to accelerated calls for a more compassionate, service-oriented response to vulnerable populations such as homeless individuals, and individuals suffering from substance abuse and mental health issues. Public transit systems are often a focal point for vulnerable populations, as these locations provide relief from weather and a modicum of safety. To respond to the prevalence of vulnerability conditions in Philadelphia’s transit system, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) Police Department developed Serving a Vulnerable Entity (SAVE), a program that pairs a police officer with a civilian outreach worker. SAVE teams patrol vulnerability hotspots in transit stations and offer referrals and transportation to services, such as shelter or a drug treatment facility, to individuals sheltering in and around the transit system. An ongoing randomized field experiment of the SAVE program examines whether the addition of an outreach worker improves treatment facilitation outcomes. This evaluation, along with the few existing studies of police co-response outreach programs, do not specifically examine the factors that influence the decision by prospective clients to utilize services offered by the co-response outreach team. The proposed study fills a vital gap in knowledge by engaging with key stakeholders to examine the factors that influence service utilization in a street outreach setting. Implications of the proposed research will be directly relevant to the various collaborative police-service strategies rolling out across the country and inform best practices for related criminal justice interventions. The proposed qualitative study uses a participatory action research (PAR) design to examine the factors that affect service utilization by vulnerable populations in the context of a street outreach program. The project data will consist of semi-structured interviews with the three stakeholder groups involved in the operation of street outreach co-response programs servicing vulnerable individuals: police officers, outreach workers, and their prospective clients. The data corpus will consist of 60 semi-structured interviews with equal representation from each stakeholder group. Qualitative data analysis will consist of a hybrid open coding process, categorization and thematic analysis in ATLAS.ti. The proposed research is expected to produce a complete doctoral dissertation, multiple peer-reviewed journal articles, a publicly available policy brief of findings and article submitted to Police Chief magazine. CA/NCF

Date Created: September 14, 2023