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Carrboro Police Department hires new social worker, emphasizes diversion program

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Monrita Hughes, a new Carrboro police department social worker, poses for a portrait on Wednesday, March 20, 2024.

In February, the Carrboro Police Department hired Monrita Hughes as its first diversion social worker as a part of the Community Care and Diversion Response team.

In 2023, Orange County received a $1.2 million grant from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services for a police and mental health collaboration diversion program. That money was used to create CCDR — a collaboration between four local law enforcement agencies, the Orange County Criminal Justice Resource Department and Freedom House Recovery Center.

The program’s purpose is to reduce the number of individuals with serious mental illness entering the criminal legal system by diverting individuals with mental illness to the appropriate support service.

Hughes has previously worked at the Department of Health and Human Services in Granville County, the Division of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in Chatham County and as a juvenile court counselor in Wake County. She said this new position combines her previous work experiences and gives her insight into all the resources there are to offer.

She said people don’t always know what resources are available to them, and that her job is to direct them to the County's resources. This could be as simple as providing transportation to court.

“They're taking these small excuses out and saying, ‘Hey, we can get you to court, we can do these things for you,’” she said.

Hughes said having a social worker available to assist with 911 calls creates what she called a “warm handoff.” The social worker has time to ask open-ended, more therapeutic questions that law enforcement officers generally do not have the time to ask and then direct the individual towards further resources, she said.

“You need someone that has the time to really spend with certain people,” Hughes said.

Ryan Daniels, the captain of the patrol division at the Carrboro Police Department, said Hughes has already been making connections and helping community members in ways officers have not had the resources or ability to do in the past.

Currently, Hughes and the other social workers within CCDR only work during the day. But, Daniels said he was interested in having a second position during the night for crises occurring outside of Hughes' work hours.

In Daniels' 22 years of work, he has never had a social worker on his team. He and CPD are happy to have Hughes on board, creating a smoother interaction between law enforcement and the community.

“Times are changing and it's going to be one of the best tools that we have for that law enforcement-community connection that every community lacks, or could at least do better at,” he said.

Ashley Machado is the mental health diversion coordinator at the County's Criminal Justice Resource Department. Machado coordinates the community care and emergency response team, connecting social workers to community members with serious mental illness and directing them to appropriate services.

“I would say this is a huge change for Carrboro considering they've never had a social worker before," she said. "So, now they're able to utilize a social worker during cases of mental health crisis and have someone that has more knowledge and is able to handle those situations better.”

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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