CORRECTION: A previous version of this story identified Shelley Hearn as a licensed social worker. Hearn has a bachelor's degree in social work and has worked in the field for 27 years. The error has been corrected. (Dec. 12, 2023)

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Right now, Kentucky has a small number of police social service workers in their departments. However, some departments in the state are embracing new social services to support those who in mental health crises. 

What You Need To Know

  • It's been over a year since the police shooting death of 22-year-old Desman Laduke involving the Nicholasville Police Department

  • The Nicholasville police department is searching for a social worker and victim advocate for their team

  • The department is working with other officers in Frankfort to learn how to embrace social services into their work 

  • The Nicholasville Police Department says the social worker position will be open for those interested in applying until Dec. 29

In October of last year, Nicholasville Police responded to a call made by Desman Laduke’s aunt to a home on Green Street about a person attempting to take their own life who was armed.

The police department says they activated a special response team and two crisis negotiators trained in handling mental health issues.

The situation escalated, leading to over two hours of negotiations. “The situation deteriorated and resulted in the loss of a life,” the department said.

Now, they have opened a position for a police social worker to help in situations like that.

It’s something similar to what Shelley Hearn, one of two community policing advocates for the Frankfort Police Department, is trained and certified to help with. She joined this city’s department in 2021 after serving as a social worker for over two decades.

Hearn says she has helped with over 360 calls in the last year.

In her role, she helps prevent recidivism, provides emotional support and helps with securing resources.

“It’s just they don’t have the time to sit and have, you know, a 10-minute conversation with a family about what maybe took years for them to kind of have that situation,” Hearn said. 

She regularly meets with over a dozen other people in central Kentucky, who each serve in roles like hers.

She says this idea was inspired out of Alexandria, Kentucky, whose police department led the charge for better community policing for almost a decade. They discuss how to handle situations where crisis response intervention is needed. 

“Ensure that they get the resources they need so they don’t have to keep having law enforcement show up and show up and show up and have to deal with certain situations that Could be resolved with just a connection to a resource,” Hearn explained. She says social workers like her are a secondary source. 

Hearn is from Jessamine County. She connected with police officers after they announced plans to hire a social worker for their department.

“So, they’re going to come and shadow my department and what we do and kind of give them an idea of what this job is going to look like for them,“ she said.

Hearn says they are dedicated to showing the community they are here to help by extending extra support and resources to other officers around the state.