A few recent law enforcement changes in Bucks County aim to improve police relations with the community, get up to speed with other counties' efforts, and support an initiative to reduce the number of mentally ill people in jail.
The Bensalem Police Department signed an agreement with the Bucks County branch of the NAACP last week, committing to improving community trust in the department.
The document promised:
- regular meetings between cops and the NAACP;
- examining officer training to make for peaceful interactions with everyone, including people of color;
- creating a less complex path to report police misconduct;
- and increasing transparency on the outcomes of misconduct investigations.
And within a few weeks, Bensalem cops could benefit from a Bucks County social worker being hired to help people who need social services.
The county posted a job listing for a "human services co-responder" who would work within a police department but report to Bucks County Human Services.
While on the job, the "co-responder" could accompany officers to a call and connect a person to mental health or addiction treatment, youth services or health care. One of the main goals is to decrease the amount of police response to situations that could be rectified by social services; another is to keep people who need help out of the criminal justice system.
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The co-responder role would help support the Stepping Up Initiative, the job posting on Bensalem PD's site reads.
According to Stepping Up, many counties in the U.S. have more people with mental illnesses in jail than in psychiatric hospitals. The organization believes placing mentally ill people in the criminal justice system is a missed opportunity to connect people to treatment and an inefficient use of taxpayer money.
"The police have, by default, become the catch-all," District Attorney Matt Weintraub told The Intelligencer newspaper.
Those efforts also tie in with a Bucks County push to establish a mental health court in the county justice system. There, people with mental health issues who have interacted with police would have a judge connect them to treatment, according to Levittown Now.
Philadelphia, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties already have mental health courts.