- Referral Program Making Strides
Director Of STRIVIN’ Hub In Raytown Believes Better Communities Start With Helping Individuals Better Their Lives
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 3, 2021
Carolyn Whitney usually exudes optimism but not in an all-is-rosy fashion. She knows reality can often be harsh, so helping others improve their reality has become her life’s work. The Sisters In Christ executive director expresses her optimism in a determined—sometimes demanding—sort of way: we can’t settle for the glass only being half-full when it needs to be filled to the brim.
To hear her state bluntly “we’ll always have crime” can be unsettling. Even dispiriting. “We have criminals who are just criminals,” she observes. “That is what they do.”
But Whitney quickly expounds her belief that “a lot of other people may commit crimes out of desperation, because they need mental health care or have addiction issues, or they’re dealing with economic hardships or past traumas.” Then she brings the optimism:
A police officer goes to the door and has to assess how can they best resolve that situation right now. They aren’t going to be able to assess what trauma has possibly been going on inside that home possibly for years and maybe been bringing police to the door repeatedly. Is there a problem with alcoholism? Was the father or mother themselves an abused child?
What we are able to do if we get a referral from the police is to do a more intimate assessment, try to get to the root cause of the situation. Then we refer the person to all the resources out there so that they can get the help they need—mental health services, addiction treatment, maybe help just getting enough food in the house. Then maybe the police officer never has to come back knocking on that door again.
The police alone aren’t the answer. It really takes the whole community. One of the best ways to reduce crime in the community is to reduce the despair in people’s lives.
‘NEEDS ARE WIDE AND VARIED’
Prior to the introduction of the STRIVIN’ Social Services Referral portal in Raytown, the city’s police officers would often suggest families and individuals contact Sisters In Christ directly.
“We’ve all got Carolyn’s cell number and would just give it out to people,” Raytown Police Chief Bob Kuehl says, “but that’s really not what you’d call a ‘system.’ What that was is a recipe for overwhelming a very dedicated lady.”
The STRIVIN’ Referral portal provides more than a systematic structure through which Raytown’s police officers and school officials can make formal referrals to Sisters In Christ. The database tracks the follow-ups Sisters In Christ does and notes the types of assistance people are needing.
“What the data is showing us is that the needs are wide and varied,” says COMBAT Director Vince Ortega.
Of the 53 referrals made in Raytown July 1 – November 30, more than 20 different “referral types” were identified, including housing (8.78%), food (7.21%), clothing (6.9%) and mental health (6.58%). The data can be broken down by zip codes to help indicate areas of need in specific neighborhoods.
Joint Effort Need To Reduce Violence
“We have a system to show in real time what is being done with these referrals,” Whitney says. “We are tracking our progress.”
Kuehl hopes the Raytown Police Department will see progress in the form of fewer 9-1-1 calls—or at least fewer calls that require officers to return to the same homes.
“Like most police departments, we are 9-1-1-driven,” he says. “We have to manage chaos and restore peace. We can see in some homes there are a lot of kids and no food, perhaps a baby and not enough diapers. But we can’t get at what’s the underlying cause of what’s happening in that home because we have to respond to the next 9-1-1 call.
“My hope is with this referral system we won’t be going back to the same homes because the family will now be able to get enough food, there will be diapers for the baby, Mom will get enrolled in an education program so she can find a good job.”
GOING THE EXTRA MILE
With the STRIVIN’ Referral portal expanding to Northeast Kansas City, Kuehl is eager to see how it evolves. He believes it has the potential to become a model program for other communities across the nation. Ortega, meanwhile, says, “We can’t really call this a 9-1-1 program for providing social services, but it’s a step in the right direction for helping the police get people the assistance they need.”
And at least one Raytown officer has shown a willingness to go the extra mile.
“It takes only a few minutes, if that long, to fill out the referral form on my phone,” says Lisa Barnett, who joined the Raytown PD seven months ago. “I’ve had a couple of people, though, who had no contact information for me to put in, so I just drove them directly to Sisters In Christ.”
The referral process is strictly voluntarily. (Raytown officers now have brochures with Sisters In Christ’s contact information. They can leave the brochures with those who are initially reluctant to be referred but might reconsider later.)
“Sometimes there is a person who doesn’t want the referral made,” Barnett says. “But most are glad we can do this for them. A lot of the times they weren’t even aware of the kinds of help available to them.”
‘GOOD THINGS ARE GOING TO HAPPEN’ — This sign in Carolyn Whitney's office perfectly reflects her optimistic approach to doing her life's work.
Barnett’s commitment to utilizing the referral portal makes Whitney smile. The Sisters In Christ executive director mentions a common refrain but does so in the form of a question: “Police officers aren’t social workers?”
“At some level we’re all social workers,” Whitney declares. “Social work starts with being human. We’re human beings trying to take care of other human beings. We all need to see the issues in the community that are causing crime. We need to support each other in resolving those issues. We need to utilize every resource in the community and come together, work together, support each other. If you can help people take care of their basic needs, make their lives better, that’s going to make for a better community.
“That’s what COMBAT is doing through STRIVIN’.”
Raytown Police Chief Believes COMBAT Social Services Referral System May The Be First Of Its Kind In The Nation
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2021
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 3, 2021
STRIVIN’ is making significant strides in Raytown.
Through its special Striving To Reduce Violence In Neighborhoods (STRIVIN') initiative, COMBAT has introduced an innovative social services referral program that Raytown Police Chief Bob Kuehl believes “is the first of its kind in the nation.” Using the new STRIVIN’ Referral portal, Kuehl’s officers can connect individuals and families in distress to a whole host of community resources that offer crucial services.
“As police officers, we always want to help people,” says Raytown officer Lisa Barnett, “but we can’t always fix the issues in their lives. We’re responding to the immediate crisis they’re having. We’re going from call to call. With this referral application, we can do something more to help them.
“It’s amazing for us to have a resource like this—right at our fingertips.”
ONE REFERRAL TO ONE AGENCY
To help people, no matter the issue(s) causing their distress—unemployment, not having enough money for food and/or rent, a mental health crisis, a substance use disorder, some other hardship—Raytown officers can now make one referral to just one agency. That referral can then lead to life-changing, possibly even life-saving, assistance being provided.
“All there is to it is checking a couple of boxes and hitting SUBMIT,” says Chief Kuehl. “Filling out the referral form is simple on your phone and can be done anywhere, anytime.
REFERRAL TYPE PERCENTAGES — The type of assistance being sought by those referred through the STRIVIN’ system July 1 - November 30 varied significantly.
HELPING INDIVIDUALS—MAKING A BETTER COMMUNITY
The STRIVIN’ Referral system was launched as a pilot program in Raytown this summer, after COMBAT and Community Care Link developed the customized software. Sisters In Christ, a non-profit organization that serves as the Raytown STRIVIN’ “hub,” processes all the referrals from the Raytown Police and, since September, Raytown school officials.
Sisters In Christ does the crucial follow-up work: contacting the persons referred, conducting more in-depth needs assessments and then reaching out to other agencies that are able to provide whatever specific services are needed.
“What this does is create a greater opportunity for more resources to be made available to more people,” Sisters In Christ Executive Director Carolyn Whitney points out. “From my perspective, it’s all about elimination and connections. If we can connect more people to the resources they need, that’s going to improve their situations. Those connections are going to help eliminate more crime in the community.”
PUTTING A ‘GREAT IDEA’ INTO ACTION
Prior to assuming his duties as Raytown Chief in March of 2020, Kuehl served 34 years with the Kansas City Police Department, rising to the rank of deputy chief. When COMBAT Director Vince Ortega, who is also a former KCPD deputy chief, invited the Raytown Police to be “involved at the grassroots level of this referral program,” Kuehl enthusiastically accepted.
“I’ve been kind of scratching my head and wondering why no one hasn’t done this before,” Kuehl says, “but I searched and couldn’t find anywhere else in the country where a system like this was being used. We needed a bridge between the officers on the scene and the resources in the community available to help people out. There was a gap. This system provides that bridge and closes the gap.
“I think people have great ideas like this, but that’s where it ends—as an idea. What COMBAT has done here is put the effort in, put the horsepower in place, to move the idea forward and put it into action.”
LITERALLY RIGHT AT THE FINGERTIPS — Raytown Police officers can access the referral program right on their phones and complete the form in just a few minutes.
EXPANDING TO NORTHEAST KC
From July 1 through November 30, police and school staff had submitted 53 referrals through the Raytown STRIVIN’ portal.
“Those referrals represent real people with real problems,” states Ortega, “in some cases, problems so severe that the police were called to their homes. This system allows the police to do more than just deal with what is happening in that moment. It alllows the police to also give people an opportunity to get assistance, so hopefully the police won’t have to come back later.
“We certainly can’t arrest our way out of these problems. This referral program goes a long way toward addressing the problem police have had for years: just connecting people with the type of help the police aren’t equipped to provide.”
The STRIVIN’ Referral program expanded this week to another STRIVIN’ neighborhood, Northeast Kansas City, where the Matties Rhodes Center is processing the referrals.
‘WE OUGHT TO MAKE A REFERRAL’
Kuehl expects his department’s number of referrals in Raytown to increase over time. “For any police department using a referral system like this can take a shift in the culture,” he explains. “It has to become a habit for the officers, part of their standard operating procedure.”
While Kuehl is in his fourth decade in law enforcement, Barnett has been a police officer for only seven months—her new career beginning shortly before the STRIVIN’ Referral portal was launched. She never expected such a “tool” to be part of her new job. At the Blue River Police Academy, she recalled “hearing from a representative from Hope House and learning about all the services available to abused women.”
“I wasn’t aware of any system like this being developed that could get people help with all kinds of issues through one referral,” says Barnett. “Being a police officer is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but I waited until my own kids were older. I want to help people. This system gives us another way to help.
“I’ve gone on calls with a partner, and we’ll see what is happening in a home. Then it’s just a matter a time before one of us says it: ‘We need to make a referral here.’”