June 2022

In this Issue:

- Eastern’s First-of-its-Kind Social Work and Law Enforcement Project Gains National Recognition, Praise from U.S. Education Secretary Cardona

CCSU President Toro and ECSU President Núñez Honored


Eastern’s First-of-its-Kind Social Work and Law Enforcement Project Gains National Recognition, Praise from U.S. Education Secretary Cardona

Photo by Bonnie Solivan

Dr. Isabel Logan (third from left), Eastern assistant professor of social work, SWLE executive director and co-founder; and Lt. Matthew Solak (first on right) of the Willimantic Police Department, SWLE c0-founder and law enforcement director, are pictured with students and other participants at the “Boots on the Ground Capstone Celebration.”


Eastern Connecticut State University’s Professor Isabel Logan’s Social Work and Law Enforcement (SWLE) project, a cutting-edge research program that brings together social workers and police officers, is quickly evolving into a national model.

Dr. Isabel Logan, assistant professor of social work at Eastern, who is also a licensed clinical social worker, is the executive director and co-founder of
SWLE – the first-of-its-kind program that embeds social work students into police departments. Through this partnership, students work alongside police officers, combining social work practices with law enforcement.

SWLE is gaining national attention and praise from U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. In April, seven undergraduate and graduate SWLE interns presented data and case studies of clients they worked with through their respective police departments. The event, titled “Boots on the Ground Capstone Celebration,” included a pre-recorded message from Cardona.

“Programs like the SWLE project can go a long way toward preventing the punishment of young people who experience mental health or behavioral challenges by connecting them with a strong support network,” said Cardona. “This program is helping police departments do their vital duty in communities by training social workers and officers to work alongside each other.”

Logan said her research led to the inaugural SWLE Project, which was created in partnership with the Willimantic Police Department and Eastern alumnus
Lt. Matthew Solak, law enforcement director and SWLE co-founder. Also integral to the project are University of Saint Joseph Professor Robert Madden, SWLE project practice standards director; and Bonnie Solivan, executive project administrator and an instructional designer at Wesleyan University. Professor Madden is a licensed clinical social worker and attorney well known in New England for social work ethics and law.

SWLE, which is likely the first specialized training program in the country, was created after passage of Connecticut’s Public Act 20-1 “An Act Concerning Police Accountability” in July 2020.  The legislation requires police departments to use social workers on calls for assistance, especially after high profile incidents of police brutality.

The project is growing and is now a statewide collaboration that includes the Willimantic, Milford, Norwich and Stamford police departments, as well as seven undergraduate and graduate students from five schools in two states. Nationally, over 90 people have formed a social work and law enforcement network.

“The SWLE program has been instrumental in developing a national networkgroup composed mostly of police social workers, law enforcement officers, professors, and social work students all interested in advancing police social work,” said Logan.

At Eastern, the program began at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic when social work student internships were falling through, so Logan reached out to Solak with the non-traditional approach of embedding students into the Willimantic Police Department.

Solak, Logan said, jumped at the opportunity to help meet the students’ needs and mandates, and they worked together to combine the social work, safety, and police elements needed to develop a syllabus. “It was amazing how we both carefully navigated both sides – education and the accountability bill. It was the right place at the right time,” said Logan, who previously worked as a social worker in the Connecticut State Division of Public Defender Services for
20 years.

The program began as a one-year pilot, with an internship for two bachelor level students in the fall of 2020. Last fall, the Willimantic Police Department had a bachelor’s and master’s candidate, and next fall, the department is taking on another candidate for a third year.

Last September, Logan and Solak also organized the first Police Social Work (PSW) Intern Academy, the primary training program of the SWLE Project that included interns, licensed clinical social workers, law enforcement officers
and professors.

“We want to be proactive in a creative, non-traditional way, especially when we are resource-challenged and can’t hire,” said Solak. “It’s been a mutually beneficial experience to everyone, and we enjoy working with the university.
It’s a great way to get some momentum going in the field.”

“At the Willimantic Police Department, interns are trained to accompany officers on non-violent calls,” said Solak. “These calls are frequently socioeconomic, often involving individuals experiencing the underlying issues of mental illness, substance abuse, and financial hardship. But every situation is different and police must first conduct a safety assessment before students respond and determine if a student is a good fit for the incident. Students also follow-up with calls and visits to ensure people are getting the necessary social services they need.”

“We are busy and always moving, so it’s a hands-on learning experience and students immediately have a real-world impact with the work they do,” said Solak. “Having students as part of our team is beneficial with long-term follow up and continued community engagement. Not only are the students learning from us, but we are also learning from the students.”

Emily Constantino ’21, an Eastern alumna who recently graduated from the University of Saint Joseph’s Master of Social Work program, was the first intern in the SWLE program at the Willimantic Police Department.

On her first call with an officer, Constantino was able to offer support to a traumatized friend of an overdose victim. “The police officers and EMTs were doing their job attending to the overdose victim, and while this was happening, I was able to speak with the traumatized friend and help de-escalate her and remove her from the scene, “said Constantino. “This was the first call I ever went on with the Willimantic Police Department, and it was also the first time I truly recognized how important this type of work is.”

Cardona said the project is also important for long-term care. “When people in the community call the police, they can get immediate help for a problem they are experiencing, and through this program, people can get the long-term care and follow up they need by connecting with trained social workers. In this way, you are contributing to social justice,” he said.

Eastern alumna Francelis Gonzalez-Perez ’20, said from an educational perspective, the project offers unmatched opportunities. “It has peer support in which you meet with interns, have weekly individual supervision with a licensed clinical worker, task supervision with you and your officer, and bi-monthly network meetings where you meet different police social workers, officers, clinicians, and professors from across the country,” she said.

Gonzalez-Perez, who recently earned a Master of Social Work degree at Fordham University, was Logan’s independent study student in 2019. Under Logan’s guidance, she began researching law enforcement, forensic social work programs, and how other universities combined social work courses with law, but then the pandemic hit. It was her senior year, Eastern moved to virtual learning, and she graduated in 2020. But she kept in contact with Logan who helped her with a field placement at the Norwich Police Department.

At the Norwich Police Department, Gonzalez-Perez worked on the road with police officers for eight months. Through her internship, she attended community events, worked with community organizations, and helped  community members become familiar with police officers through basketball games and other events. She also connected with mental health agencies to build partnerships.

She earned accolades for assisting the Norwich Police with a distressed man who threatened to jump from a bridge, and her efforts helped to remove the man safely from the bridge. She earned a unit citation award from the Norwich Police Department – the first police social work intern to be recognized and part of a unit citation. She was also honored by SWLE for a master’s level student dedicated to bridging communities and law enforcement.

Gonzalez-Perez is now working at Windham Public Schools and volunteering with SWLE where she mentors new interns at the Norwich Police Department. She plans to continue in social work, and both she and Constantino presented at the National Association of Social Workers in Connecticut’s 35th Annual Statewide Conference with the SWLE team.

“Throughout my internship, I realized that police and social workers can work together and it’s a field I belong in,” said Gonzalez-Perez. “I’ve grown to understand the other side of police work as a police social worker.”

Now, Logan said she is interviewing for new students and looking to add more police departments to the program. She is also searching for grants and hopes to someday develop an institute.

In addition to Eastern, the University of Connecticut; Central, Southern and Western Connecticut State Universities; the University of St. Joseph; Sacred Heart and Fordham Universities, all joined forces to be part of the project.

“That’s what is unique about the project, for the first-time in Connecticut, schools of social work are coming together to meet the educational needs of the students while serving communities and advancing the field of police social work,” said Logan.

“If we do this right, we will have standards of practice where social workers in police departments will be trained the same in order to conduct research to advance and sustain the field,” she said. “We can then measure the work the students are doing and examine data, to document and continue developing training depending on needs. My research and the evidence behind it prove that the model we developed does work.”

Professor Madden added that the project is also examining the ethical issues that arise when social workers are practicing within a police department.

“We are studying how social workers can prepare for the challenges of police social work while maintaining strong professional boundaries and assuming roles within the scope of practice for social workers,” Madden said. “Since this is a new field of practice, there are no published standards specific to police social work, so this project is working to develop them with the help and input from our exceptional student interns.”

Cardona said he was heartened by the SWLE program. “Through this program, people can get the long-term follow up and care they need by connecting with a trained social worker,” he said.

Solak said the program has established a good foundation in the state. “We are fortunate to be involved here in Willimantic and the program is very sustainable now,” said Solak. “We have created something that’s not just a pilot and has a high level of respect. We have a 100 percent favorable rating in the community. It’s a win-win all around.”

CCSU President Toro and ECSU President Núñez Honored

Shannon Walsh (left), Assistant Counsel, CSCU Legal Affairs, is pictured with CCSU President Zulmo Toro (center), and Tracy Madden-Hennessey (right), Executive Director, YWCA New Britain.
Shannon Walsh (left), Assistant Counsel, CSCU Legal Affairs is pictured with ECSU President Elsa Núñez (center), and Tracy Madden-Hennessey (right), Executive Director, YWCA New Britain.

Dr. Zulma Toro, president of Central Connecticut State University, and Dr. Elsa Núñez, president of Eastern Connecticut State University, were honored at the YMCA New Britain’s 19th Biennial 2022 Women in Leadership Luncheon held in May.

The Women in Leadership Luncheon celebrates and honors women and female students in central Connecticut for their outstanding accomplishments. Dr. Toro and Dr. Núñez were among those women honored for their contributions in education, business, art, media, healthcare, and politics.

Dr. Toro began her tenure at CCSU in January 2017 as the university’s first female president and its first Hispanic chief executive. Her body of scholarship reflects her passion for higher education and includes in-depth studies of the needs of under-represented students — particularly young women — who are pursuing careers in engineering and other STEM fields. She has written and lectured extensively on the necessity of preparing more women for science and technology-based work and continues to advocate for better support of women in STEM and academia.

Under Dr. Núñez’s leadership, Eastern Connecticut State University has received several major national recognitions, including being ranked the #1 public regional university in New England in U.S. News and World Report’s 2021 Best Colleges ratings.  Eastern has also been awarded "Green Campus" status by the Princeton Review 10 years in a row.  During her administration, Dr. Núñez has forged closer ties with the local and statewide communities. She has led a campus-wide strategic planning process and shepherded the opening of an expanded and remodeled Student Center, a state-of-the-art Science Building, the new Center for Community Engagement, and other campus improvements including a Fine Arts Center.

Emcee Ayah Galal, Central Connecticut State University alumna and current WFSB journalist, presented the 2022 honorees. Amita Mehta, CEO of Amita Mehta Possible and business strategist, was the keynote speaker.

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