Abolitionist Disjuncture: Reducing Police Violence in Frontline Social Work

Sparrow A. Preston


In the summer of 2020, two life-altering currents swept across North America: COVID-19 and the call to“defund  the police.” During this time, I worked at an emergency overnight shelter that was created as a pandemic response. This article is an attempt to reconcile the ethical disjuncture I felt between the popular call to move police funding into social services, and the shifts I spent watching frontline workers use the police to intervene in the lives of service-users. I explore this disjuncture through a case study from July 2020. The case study is followed by a series of practical harm reduction strategies for when frontline workers interact with the police. My hope in writing this article is twofold: (a) to encourage the field of social work to demand that its professionals interrogate their relationship with and professional usage of police, and (b) to reconcile the abolitionist purity of “never call the cops“ with the reality that frontline workers will likely continue to use the police, and that that these interactions can and must change in order to reduce harm for service users.


critical social work; police; frontline; COVID-19; abolition

Full Text:


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.