After working with children in the juvenile justice system and realizing her desire to help others, a long-time Tippecanoe County resident has shifted her services to become West Lafayette Police Department’s first social worker.
Devon Moore holds bachelor’s degrees from Purdue in psychology, as well as law and society, and a master’s degree in social work from Indiana University. She is a licensed clinical social worker and has spent the last 12 years with Tippecanoe County Youth Services as a therapist, case manager and program director.
She now holds a position where working with people in crisis will be crucial.
During her time at Purdue, Moore interned at the county’s Cary Home for Children, where she says she interacted with teenagers in the juvenile justice system. She said she realized just how much she enjoyed working with that population.
“We all made poor choices at some point as a teenager that thankfully we did not get in trouble and did not get arrested for,” Moore said. “I liked that aspect of working with the teens there, who needed to be given a chance and the ability to learn some skills to make different decisions.”
In its March 16 meeting, the Board of Public Works and Safety approved Moore for WLPD’s new social service and crisis response specialist position.
Moore said demand for positions like her new role is increasing as the prevalence of mental-health conditions rises.
“Mental health needs are ever-increasing right now,” Moore said, “especially with all that’s going on in the world in terms of social justice issues and in terms of the pandemic.
“If you look at statistics on anxiety and depression and suicidal ideation, all of those things are increasing and are likely going to continue to increase for the next several years,” she said. “So I think having a social worker with the police department provides another tool for those individuals. We’re able to get them the true help that they need.”
When WLPD posted its new social service position last fall, Moore said she knew she would regret it if she didn’t at least enter her name for consideration. Despite her love for her previous job, Moore said, she applied and went through the interviewing process.
After a straightforward application process, Moore said she had to undergo a background check. She described the process as extensive and similar to what members of law enforcement go through. After the vetting process, Moore was determined to be the best candidate for the new position.
Before she could begin her job, however, she had to go through training. Part of her training involved going to the Bloomington Police Department and shadowing their social worker, Melissa Stone, for a couple of days. Stone was hired in March 2019, becoming Indiana’s first social worker hired by a police department.
Moore said she learned how Stone’s position has evolved over the last couple of years and received insightful tips and suggestions before officially stepping into her role in West Lafayette.
She said she expects her role within the department to develop similar to Stone’s. She described the job as fulfilling three roles.
“One is community liaison, so I will be that person between the police department and community and social service agencies who is learning about new programs and opportunities that come about, and then helping the officers learn about those programs as well,” Moore said.
The second role concerns interdepartmental affairs: “Should the need arise, I could provide support for officers and their families with whatever situations are going on. Over time, I may be helping out with internal, additional training of officers.”
Her final role is to respond to situations where people have called 911 merely because they don’t know who else to call. Often officers will respond by securing the scene but may lack the expertise to aid people experiencing mental-health crises.
“I have that capacity to familiarize myself with the community resources, consistently follow up with that individual, develop a relationship with them, and then try to help them get into services,” Moore said. She can also “provide some brief services as a licensed clinical social worker.”
She plans to keep data on the number of people she assists and how many successfully obtain services like housing assistance or substance-abuse treatment. The statistics “will be an indicator as far as the need for additional social workers,” she said.
Moore, who is Black, recognized the underlying issues between police and marginalized communities. She said giving more consideration to criticism could lead to solutions.
“I don’t know that I have a perfect answer of how I think that the department can bridge that gap, but I think that they are already trying by having a presence, by listening to what the community is saying and then responding as a way to help bridge it,” she said.
Moore said she is proud of WLPD’s transparency in terms of community engagement. Over the summer, the department released a presentation, titled “Where We Stand,” that discussed its use-of-force procedures.
One policy highlighted effectively bans chokeholds “unless deadly force is justified.” Others require officers to “exhaust all alternatives before shooting” and also issue a verbal warning to suspects before firing a shot, according to the presentation.
Moore is most proud of the message in the final slide: “Connect with us.”
“They want the community to know here’s what our policies are, here’s the things that we’re going to hold our officers accountable to and here’s how we expect our officers to interact,” she said. “You have questions? Come, let’s talk, let’s do these things together and not be isolated entities, one being the police department, one being the community.”
Moore said members of WLPD have a responsibility to make themselves visible in the community to further battle the stigma attached to law enforcement.
“I think it’s important that we recognize that every interaction officers have with members of the public,” she said, “is either confirming or disconfirming evidence.”