For years before calls to defund the police swept cities nationwide, sparking heated debates about what the composition of public safety should be, the Monterey Police Department was integrating social services professionals. It started by just “giving them a desk,” Monterey Police Chief Dave Hober says. The seeds were planted in 2016 during monthly inter-agency meetings on homelessness, and a program was formalized in 2017.
Four years later, Thomas Muir moves easily through the streets of downtown Monterey on an October afternoon. At the transit center, he approaches two men looking a little worse for wear who are propped up on a cement planter. The men greet Muir like a neighbor.
Muir isn’t a police officer – his clothes, backpack and a pen that is fashioned after the Adventure Time character Jake the Dog reveal as much. He’s a social worker from Montage Health. Accompanying Muir, however, are officers Amy Ament and Brook Dooley, in full uniform. They all come in police vehicles and hit the streets, talking to people who are homeless or appear distressed.
They’re part of the Multi-Disciplinary Outreach Team, or MDOT. MDOT is a collaboration between the Monterey Police Department and various social services agencies and nonprofits, including Monterey County Adult Protective Services, YWCA, Interim Inc., Montage and Veterans Transition Center.
“I could never do what [Muir] does,” Ament says. “We’re trained in de-escalation and all that, but [Muir] knows what questions to ask to connect with people. People see the uniform and may not want to talk to us, and that’s understandable.”
This coordination between social services and police is not “defunding” anything, as Hober points out. The cost to the city is nothing, as partner agencies pay their own staff.
“Officers are out there every day,” Hober says. “They know people by name and what their stories are.” But they don’t always have the ability to get people the help they need.
In Seaside, the City Council voted this year to allocate $500,000 for increasing social services outreach. Of that, $180,000 is earmarked to fund one full-time and two part-time social services workers, who would work separately from the police department. Unlike MDOT, this group would be run by the Recreation Department and use an existing county-run hotline to distribute city workers to serve people in crisis.
Seaside Mayor Ian Oglesby says the city is close to filling the full-time position. “Not all problems are solved with the badge,” he says.
Seaside Police Chief Abdul Pridgen, who will not have any direct leadership over the new social service line, says his department will work on promoting it as a resource in their interactions with people, as well as online. Pridgen believes the new positions are a step in the right direction, and will help the police department: “It’s what the community wants, and it’ll help alleviate our call volume.”