PAWTUCKET – The Pawtucket Police Department has partnered with the Family Services of Rhode Island Go Team to better serve the community.
The Go Team provides the Pawtucket Police Department with members who have a background in social work. Members will go along with police officers and detectives on calls as needed, providing support to victims and witnesses.
Go Team member Carla Cuellar has been working with the Providence Police Department since 2004 and joined the Pawtucket Police Department this summer. She also works with Central Falls.
According to Pawtucket Police Detective Lt. David Holden, Cuellar has been an “essential asset” to the Police Department.
“She often works with the victims,” Holden said. “Her training lends itself to what so many people that call us need, but that we may not have all the knowledge and resources for them to use. Having a social worker is so much help in those situations.”
Cuellar said the objective of her position with the department is to reduce the impact of trauma in situations requiring a police response.
“How we do that is so we go right to the scene, we try to calm people down, our motto is to do a follow up within a day or two to talk about everything we may have talked about the day we were on the scene,” Cuellar said. “I think the biggest part is getting them into counseling, because obviously they’ve been through something very traumatic, both the child and the parent or caregiver, whatever the case may be.”
Holden said police will often get calls relating to mental health issues, domestic violence, or child services. Because of social worker’s training, they know services and resources to provide the victims.
When responding to mental health calls, Cuellar said that while it might not be the specialty of police, she and others in her position know what signs to look for to help.
“We know to look for certain symptoms, if someone is manic or if they are suicidal and what-not,” she said. “We can talk to them about getting them to different services or if it’s a situation where they really need to go to a hospital, and maybe they may be reluctant to do so with the police, we may have a conversation with them and get them to go.”
When following up with mental health issues, Cuellar said that she has found people to be more accepting of her help.
“When we do our follow-ups, we call the hospital and make sure they are still there or if they are not if they are at a different service. If you go to a call and they are already familiar with you they are less likely to be confrontational,” Cuellar said. “Or they might be more open to listening to what we have to say and why we may be there and that we are just there to make sure they are OK and safe.”
When responding to domestic violence calls, a big part of her job is empowering victims to get out of unsafe positions through moving forward with criminal charges and getting them different types of resources for their next steps.
“We do respond to domestic violence problems, and we try to empower the victims,” Cuellar said. “If they are ready to leave, their life is about to completely change, so getting them resources on how can we keep them empowered so they stay away from the suspect and keep their kids away from the violence.”
Another big part of her position is helping children who may be involved in the scene or a bystander, talking to them at their age level and having appropriate discussions so they understand what is happening.
“I think sometimes it can be intimidating with the child and dealing with so many different people on scene, so a lot of times they are a little more comfortable because we’re not in uniform,” Cuellar said. “That’s not to say we haven’t had kids who aren’t super comfortable with officers because they’re so amazing but it’s just to say it’s a little bit different.”
According to Holden and Cuellar, being in civilian clothing and not looking like they are a part of the law enforcement team can make a big difference in helping people.
“I think for some people they are just very anti-police and for those they are more approachable with us because we are not in uniform, we’re just civilians,” Cuellar said. “They feel like we can tell them what’s going on, what will happen next, and we’ll tell them about the laws, the different options they have, what they can face or not face.”
Holden stated, “She doesn’t look like a police officer, she doesn’t act like a police officer, she doesn’t talk like a police officer, and that can help make people respond to her better.”
Cuellar said she believes this partnership has made a big difference already in the community to both police officers and detectives, as well as the victims they are responding to.
“It’s great for the Police Department because they are not just responding to a call, they are also responding with somebody who is going to be of help to them,” Cuellar said. “It’s not something the officers are just doing because they are being forced to, it’s something the officers are actually taking the initiative to call social workers and get them involved and I think it speaks volumes of them because they are not here just to arrest people to enforce the law.”
Holden said that when he comes into work, his team will often immediately ask him if Cuellar is working and if they can have her go on rounds with them.
“Carla is great all around, she is a huge help, she’s so energetic and kind, she really makes a big difference and has so much knowledge we may not be as well versed on” Holden said. “You go into both fields if you want to help people, that’s the only reason you do it.”
While Cuellar said she has loved her time with local departments, she has decided to accept a position as an investigator for Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth, and Families.
“I feel like the police departments are like my family. I’ve been with them for so long, I’ve learned so much with them and I’m still learning,” Cuellar said. “I am very sad to leave but I think it’s time to do something new.”
Holden said police are very sad to see Cuellar leave, but are excited for her new chapter. They plan to hire someone with the same background as Cuellar for a part-time position soon, and there are hopes to hire someone for a full-time position due to the program’s success, he said.
“I’m really looking forward to hiring someone full-time for this position,” Holden said. “We just need to find a good fit, but I’m really looking forward to having someone in Carla’s position be full-time.”