BRATTLEBORO — In partnership with Health Care and Rehabilitation Services, the Brattleboro Police Department now has a social worker on staff who will be riding along with officers 20 hours a week.
“It will make things easier here at the Police Department, because, right now, we’re doing it all,” said Chief Norma Hardy.
The new part-time police partner will take the lead if a resident or visitor in town might be having problems with being unhoused, or struggling with mental health or substance use disorder, or a combination of life circumstances. The employee can assess people on scene, and refer them to the appropriate agency, such as Southeastern Vermont Community Action, Senior Solutions or Health Care and Rehabilitation Services itself.
“Police officers have been doing this work their whole careers,” said social worker Knowles Wentworth, who came to Brattleboro in 2007 to attend SIT Graduate Institute. “I just like to complement what they already do well.”
Wentworth has worked with Pathways, at the local homeless shelter and at the Brattleboro Retreat. He is also an interfaith chaplain, and has been a student and practitioner of Zen Buddhism for more than 20 years.
He has a certificate in advanced studies in spiritual psychology and soul process work from the Concord Institute and a master’s degree in conflict transformation and peacebuilding from SIT.
Wentworth grew up in Maine and was a Peace Corps volunteer in Moldova.
He has been working with the Police Department in Wilmington for the past couple of years and is happy to be now working in his hometown.
Much of his work in Brattleboro will be listening to people and helping them connect with whatever services they need. He also plans on doing follow-ups to make sure people are getting they help they need.
“It’s a tall task, but there’s tons of different types of services in Brattleboro and lots of organizations where I can make links for people,” he said. “I just hope to be able to take some of the work away from the officers, so they can focus on other aspects of their roles,” said Wentworth.
Prior to the agreement with Health Care and Rehabilitation Services, Hardy has called Wentworth in to help connect people with services.
“I have been very happy with his response and his patience,” she said.
Hardy said having a social worker on staff is a step toward developing community response teams of people who can work with some of the most vulnerable members of the community.
“I think it’s a new beginning,” she said.
The town can decide after a year whether to keep the program running, said Hardy, at which time the town will need to decide if it wants to add Wentworth to the payroll.
“I really appreciate the Select Board and the interim and new town manager having the faith in me to make the right decisions,” said Hardy.
Wentworth hopes after the year is up, the town will continue the program.
“I can’t imagine there’s ever a job that I would stick around for multiple years, but this feels like that job,” he said.