Bucks County Hires 2 New Co-Responders to Assist Police, Creates 2 More Positions
A year after its launch, Bucks County’s Human Services Co-Responder program has expanded into two more municipalities with efforts underway to spread the successful pairing of social workers and police to Bristol Borough, Bristol Township and Tullytown Borough in the near future.
The county’s two newest co-responders, Jessica Manzo and Cara Gadzinski, began work today alongside the Falls Township and Middletown Township police departments, where they will help divert people in need of social services support away from the criminal justice system.
They are the first additions to the program since last December when the county’s first two co-responders started with the Bensalem Police Department.
“I am honored that Middletown and Falls accepted our offer to continue the pilot co-responder program into their municipalities,” said Bucks County Commissioners Chair Diane Ellis-Marseglia, LCSW. “I am certain this is going to provide relief for officers who have been managing human service issues, and will be a responsive service for residents facing challenges.”
From December 2020 to June, the co-responders in Bensalem had contact with 132 people across 188 calls. Between initial responses and follow-ups, the co-responders spent approximately 185 hours with people in need of services.
A six-month review indicated the co-responders stationed in Bensalem seemed already to be helping to reduce the amount of time police officers were spending on non-crime calls. Further review will be required to substantiate the early, but promising, finding.
“We are very excited to bring this program to the community of Falls Township,” said Falls Police Chief Nelson Whitney.
“This co-responder program represents another innovative step in improving services to our residents and improving their quality of life.”
Co-responders collaborate and coordinate with agencies both in the county’s criminal justice system, such as the District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices, as well as more than two dozen social services groups including the Area Agency on Aging, the Bucks County Children and Youth Social Services Agency and the Network of Victim Assistance.
In Bensalem, referrals for mental health in adults and juveniles accounted for more than half of all referrals made by the co-responders in the program’s first six months. About 35 percent of all referrals were to county government agencies, the six-month report said, 34 percent were to community-based social service agencies and about a quarter were to medical entities.
“After seeing the success of the co-responder program in Bensalem, we are excited to partner with Falls Township PD for this second round of the co-responder program,” said Middletown Township Police Chief Joe Bartorilla. “I’m grateful to our county government for pursuing the grant to make this possible. We’re looking forward to implementing the co-responder program in Middletown Township to help our police department better protect and serve our great Middletown Township community.”
Conducted by Dr. Patricia Griffin of Holy Family University, the six-month evaluation examined data collected by the Bucks County Human Services Division. A one-year review is underway, and another is planned to follow the program’s two-year mark.
Manzo and Gadzinski’s start in Falls and Middletown comes just a week after the county Salary Board approved the creation of two more co-responder positions. Once filled, those positions will be assigned to the Bristol Township, Bristol Borough and Tullytown police departments.
The county’s co-responders all have started at a salary of $58,000. The county has agreed to fund each position for two years.
NAMI Bucks County applauded the effort by the county and behavioral health officials.
“NAMI Bucks County PA applauds the expansion of the Human Services Co-Responder program to Falls and Middletown Townships and congratulates our County Commissioners and Department of Behavioral Health for promoting the vision of a county where all people affected by mental illness live healthy, fulfilling lives supported by a community that cares,” a spokesperson said on social media.
“We are encouraged by this progress and look forward to the day when all municipalities in Bucks offer this program to provide help — not handcuffs — to people living with mental health condition,” the statement said.
Plans for the effort to come to Bristol Borough, Bristol Township, and Tullytown Borough are in the works.
A recent meeting among local, state and county officials to discuss the programs expansion to those localities was scheduled for earlier this month, however the meeting was cancelled.
Last week, the county approved the salaries for two more co-officer positions beginning at $58,000 per year, The approval clears the way for openings to be filled for Bristol Borough, Bristol Township and Tullytown. Discussions for filling those slots are ongoing and plan to re-start in the new year.
Local police have noted, since the beginning of the pandemic, for example an increasing number of people in the area who have needed access to mental health services.
In one recent instance, local police spent hours with a distraught women outside of a local eatery trying to convince her to be seen for a mental health evaluation. Eventually she declined the help.
Police officers are not trained social worker, and perhaps had there been one available that night, the outcome could of been different.
The co-responder effort seeks just that, officials all agree, better outcomes for all involved.