Harmony Montgomery case shines spotlight on need for more social workers in police departments, cops say
Police departments could hire more social workers rather than see officers replaced by unarmed agents, a National Police Association spokesperson is arguing. Betsy Brantner Smith said the Harmony Montgomery case illustrates the need.,
Shortly after local police got involved, they opened a full-scale missing person investigation and said they discovered Harmony hadn’t been accounted for since 2019. Both her father and stepmother are behind bars on separate charges ranging from child abuse to food stamps fraud.
The case comes as “defunding” police departments has become a hot-button issue around the country.
Don’t defund the police and replace them with unarmed social workers, argued Betsy Brantner Smith, a spokesperson for the National Police Association, a nonpartisan organization – hire more social workers into police departments.
That would help law enforcement address high-risk situations involving mental health, domestic violence and child abuse crises, she said.
Many departments over a certain size already employ in-house social workers, she told Fox News Digital, and they benefit both the public and their police officer colleagues.
“I just don’t think people are aware of it,” she said. “And police officers overwhelmingly would welcome more social workers to be able to assist them.”
Brantner Smith said that calls to defund the police unnecessarily create new dangers – for communities and for the unarmed social workers sent out to do police work.
Two officers were killed in the line of duty responding to so-called nonviolent calls recently in Illinois alone, she noted. One had gone to assist a stranded driver and another was responding to a complaint about a barking dog.
“This talk of replacing police officers with social workers does nothing more than endanger those social workers,” she said.
Brantner Smith said the “ideal scenario” would be to have a highly-trained police officer and a highly-trained, well-educated social worker in every squad car.
“But nobody’s going to pay for that,” she said.
After working for decades in a department serving a community with over 100,000 residents, she said the two full-time social workers she worked with weren’t enough. Expanding that to five, she estimated, could make a difference.
She also argued that empowering local law enforcement to work on their own community welfare issues would ease the burden on overloaded state and big-city agencies.
New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services became the target of public outrage after 7-year-old Nixzmary Brown was tortured and beaten to death by her mom and stepdad despite the girl’s school having sent multiple reports of abuse to the agency.
Nixzmary had even begged for her grandmother to rescue her from the abusive home in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. By Jan. 11, 2006, 16 years ago Tuesday, she was dead.
The incident led to major reforms. The city now says police are “deeply involved” in all cases involving suspected child abuse. The ACS says it also began hiring retired detectives as consultants and employs enough workers so that their average caseload, 7.5, is half of the state’s standard of 15. And the agency says its ChildStat system to track cases and supervision has become a national model.
Some of Harmony’s relatives told Fox News Digital they reported signs of abuse on multiple occasions and saw no results.
“They did their investigation, it was within a few days or the week, and they said all the kids looked ‘vibrant, happy and healthy,'” said Kevin Montgomery, the uncle of Harmony’s dad Adam Montgomery. His nephew is currently being held without bail on suspicion of child abuse and assault years after allegedly giving the partially blind girl a black eye in July 2019.
Harmony’s great-grandmother also said she called New Hampshire’s Department of Health and Human Services in July 2021 after she heard Adam Montgomery had entered drug rehab to check up on the girl’s well-being and whereabouts.
She said officials told her that Harmony wasn’t in their system, wasn’t in their custody, and that they didn’t have a case open.
“That was it,” she said.
Harmony’s mother, Crystal Sorey, was forced to surrender custody to the state of Massachusetts in 2018, according to court documents, in part due to drug abuse issues.
The girl’s father received sole custody on Feb. 22, 2019, despite a record of violence and drug abuse that included shooting a dealer in the face in 2014, only to have the victim beat him up, take the gun and shoot him back, police documents show.
And although Sorey hounded child protective services in Massachusetts and New Hampshire for two years, no one in an official capacity realized that the girl was missing until local police became involved in the case in late November, according to court documents.
“They’re horrible,” Kevin Montgomery said of New Hampshire’s Division of Children, Youth and Families. “They shouldn’t even be allowed to open their doors and operate, they’re so bad. It’s unacceptable.”
The DCYF declined to comment on the Harmony case, citing its privacy rules, and it did not respond to broader questions about how a child’s disappearance could have gone unnoticed for two years.
“One of the ways that we could do to help solve this problem, which we have in every single state, is to turn some of this back over to local law enforcement,” Brantner Smith said. “Once local law enforcement got involved, all of a sudden we’re finding that we can’t find this child and finding out what a bad guy the dad is.”
Part of the problem is that statewide agencies are stretched too thin, she said. They’re swamped with cases, undermanned and underfunded.
“When you talk about a government agency, the larger they are, the more it’s about process instead of success,” she said. “And you end up with cases like this, a child who has slipped through the cracks and has probably been murdered.”
Brantner Smith spent a large portion of her 29-year police career investigating crimes against children, she said.
“I saw this many times as a police officer, when I would turn over a case to Child Protective Services, I had a lot more time to do investigations than their investigators did, and that’s one of the reasons they fall through the cracks,” she said.
Harmony is about 4 feet tall and 50 pounds. She has blonde hair and blue eyes and should be wearing glasses. She’s also blind in her right eye. Manchester Police have set up a dedicated tip line, manned 24 hours a day by detectives, at 603-203-6060. Anyone with information is urged to call.