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Immediate safety net of support: Trauma recovery team, Cleveland police team up


Dr. Sue Marasco, center, shown with colleagues at the May Dugan Center in Cleveland
Dr. Sue Marasco, center, shown with colleagues at the May Dugan
Center in Cleveland, will be a featured speaker at the One Day in May
Conference on Victim Assistance-Virtual Edition on May 21.

In 2018, Cmdr. Brandon Kutz of the Cleveland Division of Police moved some new workers into the headquarters of his Fourth District.

They weren’t on the payroll, had no investigative experience and didn’t intend to patrol the streets of Cleveland’s most populous and violent district. 

But the team of trauma specialists from the May Dugan Center had a purpose that Cmdr. Kutz and his officers could get behind: helping victims of violent crime heal.

“Police officers are quick to utilize a tool or process that makes sense and helps fulfill the mission of law enforcement,” Kutz said. “Sue was offering an opportunity to help victims be healthy and safe and more accessible to our detectives. This seemed a much-needed piece of the puzzle in providing meaningful service to the community.”

Sue is Sue Marasco, Ph.D., director of trauma recovery at the May Dugan Center. The center, founded in 1969, provides city residents a wealth of services, including help with emergency housing and food, employment training, counseling, training for parents, and community outreach.

The year before they joined detectives in the Fourth District, Marasco and the May Dugan team took up trauma recovery services, a model of care recognizing that, for victims of violence, medical care alone can’t fix all of their problems. People recover best when provided with a personalized range of services, which might begin with finding a safe place to live and include various other services that the center was already adept at providing.

Marasco sees big benefits to her team’s relationship with Cleveland police.

“It was a revolution in so many ways for us,” she said recently from her office on Cleveland’s west side. “They allowed us to get to these victims very quickly, and my belief in trauma recovery really is getting to that person, wherever they are, as soon as possible to help wrap them in an immediate safety net of support.” 

The May Dugan team members make clear to victims that they work with police but are there for victims. That might include sitting with a victim and taking notes during a detective’s interview, and commiserating afterward about how challenging the process can be.

“We get a lot of referrals who don’t want to work with the police, and that’s fine,” Marasco said. “We follow up with them. We take care of them. But it also really creates an opportunity for a relationship to develop, and I think we’re seeing over time that people are more willing to follow through with the police because they feel like they’re being supported and taken care of.”

Kutz couldn’t agree more. 

“Our victims are having their needs met, which means that they are more available and willing to follow through on the process of seeking justice,” the commander said. 

Humble beginnings

Marasco is the first to acknowledge that she hasn’t always had such a close relationship with law enforcement. 

She likes to say that she comes from the middle of nowhere, which was actually near the town of Hooper, Colorado — population 103, as of the most recent census.

A defining moment during Marasco’s young life occurred while she was watching the TV series “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

“He was saying, ‘When there’s a crisis, when there’s stuff going on, look for the helpers.’ And I, literally, I watched that — as a child in my polyester and Garanimals, on my shag carpet of the ’70s — thinking: ‘I don’t know any of those people. I don’t know helpers.’ It was such a small town, we really didn’t have law enforcement. I had never seen a real firetruck.”

She grew up taking multiday trips through the mountains, venturing even deeper into “nowhere,” and repeatedly circling back to the sentiment that there were no helpers around. 

“Later, after moving to Colorado Springs and then to Nashville, to New Orleans and then Chicago, I came to love the sound of emergency vehicles because I know that means there are helpers on their way.”

Of her work with May Dugan, Marasco said: “When you come to a house that’s been riddled with bullets, and you sit with somebody on the curb of the street … they might be having the worst day of their life. But I know that things are going to get better for them because they have people present who are listening.”

The concept of a whole-person approach to trauma recovery originated in the early 2000s in San Francisco. Dr. Alicia Boccellari, who developed the first such program, was inspired after she heard a trauma surgeon at San
Francisco General Hospital say, “We can sew them up, but we can’t make them well.”

After about 15 years of program refinements, the UC San Francisco Trauma Recovery Center in 2017 published a how-to manual, which the May Dugan team got its hands on.

“The soul of it is to be just focused on that person and keeping the trauma from snowballing,” Marasco said. “When starting our program, we read it like you read a piece of Scripture, like this is what we’re going to do.”

It quickly became clear, though, that San Francisco and Cleveland had notable differences. Cleveland, a more spread-out city, has five hospital networks through which victims can be filtered; San Francisco has one main hospital network. Also, Cleveland already had the largest rape-crisis-support system in the country and a robust county-wide domestic violence network.

May Dugan did not want or need to repeat those services.

“We’re not using resources well if everybody is reinventing the same wheel,” Marasco said. “We work best when we say, ‘This is what we’re good at, this is what we’re using our resources for, and this is why our little niche helps the social fabric take care of everybody.’”

A shared mission

Recognizing the importance of the work, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office provided early funding for the May Dugan Center’s program – part of a plan to create the nation’s second statewide trauma recovery network.

The Ohio network now consists of eight trauma recovery centers throughout the state, said Aaron T. Bryant, victim services development director in the Attorney General’s Office.

“But the involvement with the Cleveland police is unique to May Dugan Center,” Bryant said. “There may be other programs that offer or are able to provide this service, but it’s not a coordinated effort like it is with this program.”

Marasco said she realized early that May Dugan workers, after meeting their initial clients in hospitals, spent too much valuable time figuring out how to obtain police reports, connect with investigators and deal with law enforcement-related issues.

“I said: ‘We’ve got to get closer to law enforcement. This is where the support begins,’” Marasco recalled. “So we asked to meet with the commanders of all five police districts, and we laid out our needs.”

That’s how Cmdr. Kutz and the Fourth District’s relationship with the center began.

“They get the victims the help that we typically would not be able to deliver,” Kutz said. “That reflects well on May Dugan, but it is nice as police officers to be part of that solution.”

Marasco said that if she could share one message with her fellow social-services workers, it would be this: Although everyone has complaints about how “the system” works, people should recognize that everyone working in the system took their jobs to make a difference.

“As the commander that I work with says often, ‘Underneath even the crustiest, most battlehardened police officer, you have somebody who wants to see people get better.’ ...

“I truly believe — whether it’s the medical system or the judicial system, law enforcement, social services — each one of us comes into this with a real desire to support people. The more we work together and are willing to sit down at the table — even with the programs and the agencies that are tricky to work with — the better off we all are, including our most vulnerable.”