People are starting to ask how they can support the safety of their cities without going down the traditional police career path. There are a ton of careers — like school counselor or social worker — where you can help make your community safer and stronger.
As waves of protests continue across the country, many people are engaging in open dialogue about racial justice and social health. One vector of that conversation deals with non-police career options for people who want to help their communities, but feel disenchanted with law enforcement agencies.
There are a ton of alternatives to police work out there — probably more than you realize. Find out which ones are most needed to ensure community safety below.
Non-Police Careers That Keep Your Community Safe
Social Worker $59,880
Many people turn to social work when they want a helping career. Social workers help affected persons solve or cope with everyday problems related to mental, emotional, and behavioral health. They work to identify individuals and communities in need of assistance or intervention and often respond to emergencies in disarming ways.
Because social workers keep their finger on the pulse of their communities, many cities across the country have already begun to implement policies that use social workers to foster a safe community.
For example, local leaders in Albuquerque, New Mexico, recently unveiled a new plan for social workers to respond to certain 911 calls rather than police officers. In Burlington, Vermont, mayor Weinberger proposed a similar plan for social workers to accompany police officers on mental health calls. Both proposals identify social workers as among those best qualified to offer assistance with issues related to homelessness and emotional distress.
Paralegals offer assistance to attorneys and other legal professionals as they coordinate research and argue cases. Many of those cases disproportionately affect people of color.
A recent Pew Research study found that while African Americans comprise 12% of the U.S. population, they account for 33% of prison populations nationwide. Caucasians, by comparison, make up 64% of the total population and only 30% of the prison population. They also receive sentences 20% shorter than African American men imprisoned for the same crime.
Our legal system continues to be marred by institutional discrimination and unchecked racial bias. As a paralegal, you can help change this reality by getting in at the ground level and working alongside the legal professionals who make key decisions.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that paralegal salary rates and job growth (12%) will remain encouraging due to demand for qualified workers.
School Counselor $50,620
School counseling is another non-police career that can help keep your community safe. High school counselors, for example, help students develop the social and academic skills they need to succeed in school and beyond.
Schools and communities across the country are in desperate need of good counselors. The Education Trust reports that a sobering one in five students do not have access to quality school counseling services. The average student-to-counselor ratio is currently 311-to-1 nationwide — much higher than the 250-to-1 figure recommended by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA).
The same report highlights another reality: Black students are much more likely than their white peers to identify school counselors as a significant influence on their lives and future aspirations. Additional research links ASCA's student-to-counselor ratio recommendations to better academic outcomes, higher graduation rates, and overall success.
Substance Abuse Counselor $59,010
Like social workers, substance abuse counselors use trauma- and crisis-intervention skills to help de-escalate conflict. They specialize in alcoholism, drug abuse, and other addictive behaviors to support individual mental health and overall community safety.
Work in substance abuse counseling is on the rise, according to the BLS, and is necessary to help combat the rising tide of the opioid epidemic and other drug-related problems. In a recent report, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the number of drug overdose deaths quadrupled between 1999 and 2018.
In order to fight this alarming trend, the CDC recommends increasing public awareness, supporting healthcare providers, and expanding local capacity for necessary substance abuse services. Work in substance abuse counseling is one of the most effective ways to accomplish those goals and keep your community safe.
Child Protection Investigator $48,720
Child protection investigators focus on strategies to assist families and children in need. They often intervene in sensitive situations and, in the interest of community safety, remove children who are subject to abuse or neglect. However, the field has a history of systemic racism, which makes it more important than ever for people going into the field to be well educated about how to effect positive change using input from impacted communities.
Child protection programs also remain severely understaffed and suffer from levels of turnover and attrition that make it difficult to sustain their services. For instance, in 2017, Florida's Department of Children and Families conducted an internal review that found the agency overwhelmed and overworked. It noted that while over 1,500 investigations were open at the time, only 137 staff were available to service them.
More recently, a report in Mississippi revealed that the state's agency rarely met court-ordered caseload mandates due to its 30% turnover rate, leaving a quarter of available positions vacant. Going into this line of work can help rectify these trends by promoting community welfare and safeguarding the well-being of the most vulnerable among us.
Family Therapist $75,680
These mental and emotional health professionals help families overcome difficulties related to domestic issues. They identify problematic or toxic relationship dynamics and work to implement more healthy habits and behaviors.
Police officers have traditionally responded to domestic violence-related calls, but some states have already begun to re-think that approach. A New York nonprofit recently added new resources to support those in need, and in Eureka, California, local police are enlisting help from community partners, including family therapy professionals.
This approach could become the new normal and may ultimately be a more effective way of maintaining community safety. Increases in awareness and demand bode well for both job outlook and potential family therapist salaries.
Preserving community safety is an ongoing process that demands vigilance and care. Exploring non-police career alternatives like those we've listed helps promote community-based safety for the mutual benefit of working professionals and the communities they strive to support.