ST. LOUIS — After 27 years as a police officer, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Captain Perri Johnson has seen too much violence.
"Our overall goal is to get our crime down, to get our violent crime down," said Johnson.
Last year, Captain Johnson went to Connecticut to learn how the New Haven Police Department has tackled violence. For more than 25 years, New Haven Police have collaborated with the Yale University School of Medicine on a program called Child Development Community Policing.
It's a program that addresses the psychological impact of violence on children. A key component of the program is pairing police officers with social workers.
"While I was in New Haven, we went on a call where a home was broken into and a young teenager was there. She was traumatized by it. I got a chance to see the social worker come in and step in and talk to her individually and get some information and make her feel a lot better," Johnson said. "And then I witnessed the officer give his number and say, 'hey, I'm going to come back and check on you in a couple of days'. So that really made her feel a lot better."
That's why there is now a pilot program in St. Louis, Cops and Clinicians, to decrease violence by responding to the social problems of citizens before they become criminal problems.
Cops and Clinicians also puts an emphasis on children who experience trauma, especially violence.
"Trauma affects children out here every single day," Johnson said. "We have children out here running around with PTSD like crazy. Then there are people that don't understand what that is and they don't understand how to deal with that, how to handle it. And so they just kind of write it off and push it to the side. No, we've got to deal with that if we're ever going to make an impact and start to try to get some of this violence down."
Phillip Brooks and Ryan Smith are both social workers with St. Louis Integrated Health Network. They believe they're helping citizens solve problems while improving community relations with police.
"We started to see the community and the people that we come in contact with are really starting to be at ease with us showing up with the presence of a police officer," Brooks said.
Officer Gary Ruffin said he was excited to be part of Cops and Clinicians. He's seen improved communication with residents.
"They’re really surprised by what we’re doing out here. It’s a real positive interaction between the social workers, us and citizens because it hasn’t been done before," said Ruffin.
Ryan Smith sees the pilot program as his chance to make a difference in stemming St. Louis violence.
"This is an opportunity for us to address some of the problems that we all know exist," Smith said. "The arrest rates as well as a community that is in need of services more than they are police involvement."
Captain Johnson is determined to give Cops and Clinicians a chance to succeed.
"If they reached the people, like they need to reach to people, then our crime and violence is going to go down because there are more people that are getting help."