County Co-Responders Initiative Agreement Approved by Council
A human services program, sponsored by Bucks County and online in three other municipalities, moved one step closer to becoming reality in Bristol Borough Monday night.
Borough Council approved an agreement with the county to participate in the Co-Responder initiative through a block grant the county received. The initiative seeks to employ professional social workers working in tandem with local police departments to assist police on human services related calls.
The proposal was approved unanimously by council after Officer in Charge, Sgt Joe Moors explained the program which is funded for the next two years.
The purpose of the program, Moors said, is decrease the amount of time police departments spend responding to situations where social services are needed.
Boro officers responding to calls would assess the situation and if there is a human services related need, such as mental health, drug and alcohol issues, or domestic situations the Co-responder team assigned to us will respond to that situation, Moors said.
If there is anything Co-Responders could do on the scene with the help of police officers to deescalate a situation that would be their primary purpose, Moors said.
Another important aspect of the program is diversion of people from the criminal justice system to the human services system. Police responding to a call involving a person experiencing an emotional crisis, will be able to access the human services workers so the person isn’t arrested and is provided the help and resources they need to overcome the crisis, without having to go to jail, which is an aspect of the program, mental health advocacy organizations like Bucks County NAMI strongly support.
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, said the county late last year.
Co-Responders would not be patrolling with police or be placed in harms way, Moors said.
A six-month review last year 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.
“It’s a real good program and we’ve been looking into it for several months now”, Council President Ralph DiGuiseppe said, “and is well worth it.”
Tullytown and Bristol Township are also expected to be a part of Co-Responder Program as they, along with the borough, will have access to two social workers to assist police with human services issues.
Bristol Township Manager Randee Elton said Tuesday morning the township was waiting to see how the vote by borough council turned out.
We have had informal discussions and knew the Borough had (it) on their agenda last night and was waiting to see how their Council voted. Now that they voted to approve, we will place (it) on the agenda for next week’s meeting on February 17th for Bristol Township’s Council, said Elton
Questions about when the initiative would begin in Bristol was addressed by County Spokesman, Jim O’Malley Tuesday.
So long as the municipalities approve it, the county expects the new co-responders could be working with the Bristol Borough, Bristol Township and Tullytown police departments some time in the spring, O’Malley said.
The effort which has been championed by Bucks County Commissioners Diane Ellis-Marseglia, who is a licensed social worker (LCSW) herself said of the effort late last year, “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.”
The county salary board approved the positions last December that are expected to work with BBPD. Currently there are four, Co-Responders working in Bucks.
The workspace assignments for the co-responders also have not yet been finalized as of yet, a county official said.
Tullytown officials did not respond to a request for comment on this story.