Valparaiso Police Chief Jeff Balon has announced the hiring of Samantha Burgett, MSW, as the first Police Social Worker at the Valparaiso Police Department. Burgett obtained her bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) from Valparaiso University and her master’s in social work (MSW) from IUPUI. She has a background in non-profit work, case management, program development and facilitation within the criminal justice system.
Chief Balon said, “Burgett will not carry a gun or wear a uniform, and she will not replace police officers responding to regular calls for service or emergency situations. Her role will be to assist the police in situations related to mental health, substance dependencies and other challenges to reduce crime and repeated calls for service involving a wide variety of community needs.” Burgett will also work with other organizations within the community that provide services to victims of domestic-related issues, the elderly, the homeless, youth and school programs, as well as work to enhance the already well-established community engagement that the Valparaiso Police Department has with the citizens of Valparaiso. Chief Balon said, “Burgett will also be tasked with searching for grant opportunities, training that identifies and enhances the current trends in law enforcement related to social needs, as well as interacting with citizens who need assistance.”
The Police Social Worker position grew out of a partnership that started in late 2017 when Chief Balon and Caroline Ban, Program Director and Assistant Professor in the Valparaiso University Social Work Department, joined forces to begin the development of a police social worker program at the Valparaiso Police Department. This program has been fully funded by HealthLinc, a partner in other programs related to mental health and substance dependencies throughout the community.
The hiring of a social worker is part of an overall wellness initiative Chief Balon has introduced at the Valparaiso Police Department. In addition to the social worker, Chief Balon has also announced that Dr. Dennis Shelby, practitioner at the Psychoanalytic Institute in Chicago and a resident of Porter County, will become the Valparaiso Police Department Internal Mental Health Consultant. Dr. Shelby with help support officer health and wellness needs. Dr. Shelby’s background focuses on helping officers deal with traumatic job-related stress. Dr. Shelby also has a background in law enforcement and will assist with the training and education of officers. The department also plans to re-institute the Valparaiso Police Department Chaplin Program, which will assist officers and citizens by offering a spiritual component, if it is requested. “Providing mental health support for our team is another way of ensuring that our department offers the very best in community policing,” said Chief Balon.
To further enhance overall wellness, the department will strengthen its priority of physical fitness in 2022, the Valparaiso Police Department is establishing a mandatory physical fitness standard for all police officers. Chief Balon said, “Statistics show that officers who are more mentally prepared and physically fit go into stressful situations with a calmer and more confident demeaner, which has shown to result in more positive resolutions and fewer risks for the community and for officers themselves.”
“The men and women of the Valparaiso Police Department are true professionals who work very hard to protect and help our citizens,” said Chief Balon. ‘It is imperative that our team receives the best training, the best equipment, and upholds the highest physical standards, preparing them to deliver the very best in service to our community each day,” he said.
“The additional wellness initiatives further strengthen our police department, making them a better resource for our community and for the team itself,” said Valparaiso Mayor Matt Murphy. “The Valparaiso Police Department continues to hold itself to the very highest standards, including their accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Academies (CALEA), which puts our police department among just 15 departments in Indiana and less than 800 nationwide. We’re fortunate to have such a sound commitment to public safety in the Valparaiso Police Department,” said Murphy.