In June, the Camden Coalition welcomed Dr. Jennifer Wood of Temple University’s Department of Criminal Justice to present her preliminary research toward a police screening and diversion tool for the city of Camden. This tool would help Camden police officers screen residents they encounter for health and social service needs and provide protocols to refer people to the appropriate services.

Jennifer has partnered with the Coalition and the Camden County Police Department (CCPD) to create this tool as part of our Camden ARISE program. The first step in creating the screening and diversion tool was interviewing CCPD officers about their current practices and how such a tool might help them.

Presenting resented her findings from interviews with CCPD officers to a room packed with our staff, CCPD representatives, and community leaders, Jennifer highlighted that it was clear that many officers already see their roles as multifaceted— sometimes acting as counselors or referrers rather than strictly law enforcement agents. CCPD officers are aware of the benefits and downsides of arrest and detention, she said, and are already collecting a lot of information from vulnerable city residents to try to connect them to the services they need. A screening and diversion tool could provide useful standardization, and a reminder in complex, fast-moving situations of what to ask and what services are available.

Jennifer is now interviewing Camden residents with complex health and social needs as well, to get their input on how police officers could best help connect them to services. She will then work to develop the screening and diversion tool, and to evaluate it in the field with the help of the CCPD.

Camden ARISE, our integrated data program, seeks to improve care for people who interact with multiple systems in the city that often don’t talk to each other. “Camden ARISE is essentially the idea that no system is able to tackle the challenges of complexity in a silo,” says Dawn Wiest, Director of Action Research and Evaluation at the Camden Coalition. “We, as a coalition, understand that complex needs cannot be addressed without collaboration and coordination.”

This understanding led to a partnership with the CCPD in 2014. By combining our datasets, we found that there is an overlapping population of “dual system high utilizers”: people with complex health and social needs who frequently end up in both the city’s emergency departments and jails. With little coordination between the city’s health care system and criminal justice system, neither side gets a full picture of these individuals’ needs.

We connected with Jennifer to collaborate on using the data we had analyzed to improve coordination and to make sure that whenever possible, people with complex health and social needs in Camden are connected to services.


Dr. Jennifer Wood’s research, development, and evaluation of a police screening and diversion tool for Camden is being funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

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