When it comes to fighting the ever-growing opioid epidemic, the Bensalem Township Police Department is not only a leader in the county, but the state.
“All of my command staff, my middle management, all of my officers, my dispatchers and my community services officers were trained in addiction and what it’s like to be addicted,” said director of public safety Fred Harran. “They were taught that addiction is not a bad person trying to become good. It’s an ill person trying to become well. That’s a huge change for law enforcement.”
Harran, who is the Republican candidate in this year’s election for Bucks County sheriff, joined other law enforcement and healthcare professionals from across Pennsylvania virtually to testify before the House Human Services Committee on their work guiding those with opioid addiction into recovery.
According to Harran, 80 percent of crimes committed in Bensalem are drug-related. To help lower this statistic, the department launched in 2017 BPAIR (Bensalem Police Assisting in Recovery), inspired by a similar program in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Ever since, officers have adopted a new way of policing.
“This was not in lieu of arresting,” Harran stressed. “But if you want help, our officers were trained to offer that help. This is a philosophy.”
For those who want to turn their lives around, the officer brings in a social work professional, or “navigator,” to speak with the individual. After an initial assessment, the navigator aids them in finding the right treatment center for their needs. Thanks to funding from the Kaitlyn Murphy Foundation, an Uber is called to transport them to the center for free. Ultimately, it’s a “warm hand-off” between each step to sobriety.
“If we can get people help, we can break that cycle of crime,” said Harran.
Several Bucks County officials serve on the House Human Services Committee and listened to his testimony. They include majority chairman Rep. Frank Farry (R-Langhorne) and Reps. KC Tomlinson (R-Bensalem), Todd Polinchock (R-Chalfont) and Shelby Labs (R-Doylestown).
“That’s the message I’m trying to get across through these hearings,” said Farry. “As demonstrated by what Director Harran is doing in Bensalem, the largest police force in Bucks County, these warm hand-off programs mark a sea of change for law enforcement that is saving lives.”
In 2019, Polinchock introduced House Resolution 216, which directed the Joint State Government Committee to establish a task force and advisory committee to conduct a study in Pennsylvania on warm hand-off techniques, specifically to tailor the steps in recovery for those with a substance use disorder to successfully recover.
The group consisted of over 20 professionals, including those from the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, Department of Health, Department of Human Services and the Department of Corrections. It also included researchers, emergency medicine physicians, recovery organizations and child advocates.
“Ultimately, this task force has moved the needle in the right direction on warm hand-offs and continues to provide hope, which is what is needed most by people suffering from substance use addiction,” said Polinchock. “I am in awe of the time and expertise put in by such knowledgeable people from all aspects of dealing with this crisis.”
Tomlinson and Farry praised Harran for his leadership on the warm hand-off program in Bensalem, which will be utilized as a model moving forward.
“I think he and the Bensalem Police Department should be commended in their efforts to not only help those in need, but to also employ those in the field of social work to work alongside our police officers to make sure the residents of Bensalem have the best chance at getting the help they need,” said Tomlinson.
“Thank you to everyone who has contributed to the findings and has dedicated their time and expertise to this life-saving cause,” said Farry. “My goal is to use the information provided by Fred and the other testifiers to help us to encourage programs like the one in Bensalem throughout the state.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org