Unarmed ‘social workers’ to respond to 911 calls in Massachusetts

Seven individuals with the Community Assistance Response and Engagement (CARE) team in Cambridge, Mass. Members of CARE are unarmed social workers who respond to some 911 calls without a police escort. Photo: Boston25News

In the Boston suburb of Cambridge, a special team of unarmed social workers is set to respond to some 911 calls, sparking concern and criticism from residents.

  • The team of responders, known as the Community Assistance Response and Engagement (CARE) team, is set to launch its 911 crisis response, which prioritizes “trauma-informed” care to those in need.
  • In a job posting on its official website, CARE says it is asking non-college-educated recruits to risk life and limb to “prioritize a trauma-informed lens and resources when attending to the needs of the community.” CARE applicants are only expected to have “experience in crisis intervention.”
  • Once hired, those in the CARE team would be deployed alone to nonviolent cases unaccompanied by police. Applicants are expected to uphold a “commitment to anti-racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Further context: According to the latest US Census Report, Cambridge, Mass, is currently 61.7% White. CARE team members will earn between $30 and $36 an hour, however, responding to “vulnerable communities.”

  • A spokesperson for Cambridge said CARE exists to “supplement” the City’s public safety and emergency services.
  • “They will be prioritizing issues of mental and behavioral health in some of the city’s most vulnerable communities, who may not always trust or feel safe with the police. The team members have extensive experience in social work, mental health counseling, developmental psychology, emergency medical services, and other areas,” they continued.
  • “If anything goes wrong. If there’s any safety concerns. They can radio for assistance immediately and get back up right away,” said Liz Speakman, the team’s director.

Why it’s important: The radical move to “defund the police” and trade professional officers with social workers was born from the violent and fiery 2020 summer of racial reckoning.

  • Several cities, notably Washington D.C., New York, and Los Angeles, have dabbled with slashing police funding, only to drastically increase it the following years after reported crime surges.
  • Crippling recruitment shortfalls have since haunted major American cities, creating unsafe neighborhoods as officers are outmanned, outgunned, and in many cases, stymied by neoliberal policing protocols.
  • Meanwhile, the field of social work has only become more dangerous, especially for White people. In April of 2023, an “irreplaceable” White social worker from Vermont was butchered by a Black woman with an axe inside a secure homeless facility.

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