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The program will direct some people toward social services and away from the criminal justice system and reduce the time police spend on social service-related calls. Credit: Sukhmani Kaur

Bucks County announced the launch of a new program in Bensalem Township on Wednesday that will partner police officers with social workers.

The Bensalem Police Department plans to bring on two social workers for a two-year pilot program, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The program will direct some people towards social services and away from the criminal justice system and reduce the time police spend on social service-related calls. 

Crisis intervention-trained social workers will be joining the department to handle mental health, domestic abuse, and substance abuse issues, WHYY reported. The two social workers will de-escalate situations with the goal of connecting people to mental health counseling, drug rehabilitation, youth counseling, or shelter or housing programs, the Inquirer reported.

Bensalem is a suburb northeast of Philadelphia. It is the largest municipality in Bucks County and its police force has over 100 police officers on duty, according to the department website. 

The program arrives amid a recent wave of similar initiatives, all in response to Minneapolis police killing George Floyd in May, and the subsequent national movement for police reform. 

SEPTA launched a similar program last month, although the inspiration for Bensalem came from a Dauphin County program, WHYY reported.

Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub told the Inquirer that the experimental program is aimed at rethinking policing, and that it should not be categorized with the national movement to get rid of police departments.

“I think this defies the traditional labels that you always hear, whether this is a ‘progressive program,’ or this is the product of ‘defunding the police’ … it’s none of those things,” he told the Inquirer. “This program is humanity-based.”

The pilot program will cost $400,000, which will be funded by a human services block grant Bucks County receives from the state, the Inquirer reported.

“The question is asked… ‘Why were the police called? Why weren’t these people being helped?’” Bensalem’s Director of Public Safety Fred Harran told WHYY. “We hear over and over again all the mental health issues that many of these folks have had. That stops today here in Bensalem.”

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