Bensalem Public Safety Director, Co-Responder Give Update On Special Pilot Program

Bensalem's two new co-responders Walter Bynum and Rachel Agosto speak to the press. From left: Bensalem Director of Public Safety Fred Harran, Bucks District Attorney Matt Weintraub, Bynum, Agosto, County Commissioners Gene DiGirolamo, Diane Ellis-Marseglia, and Bob Harvie, and Mayor Joe DiGirolamo. Photo by Rick Rickman.

Officials in Bensalem are touting the success of a pilot program connecting social workers with police officers for special cases.

Co-responder Rachel Agosto joined Behind the Badge on 1490 WBCB Tuesday. The show is hosted by Public Safety Director Fred Harran and Tom Mellon of Team Toyota Langhorne.

Public Safety Director Fred Harran and Co-responder Rachel Agosto on Behind the Badge.

Harran says it’s not fair to expect officers alone to handle an ever growing list of mental health issues. That’s where Agosto and her fellow co-responder Walter Bynum come in.

They specialize in helping police with special cases. Homeless people or those with drug and alcohol issues are just some of the individuals Agosto says she has helped.

“I think it’s important to know that when we’re going out there, we’re alleviating some of the things officers weren’t able to alleviate before.”

Agosto adds her job isn’t just to stop people from being arrested.

“Coming on, I was shocked at how many homeless people there were,” said Agosto.

Officers get called to situations involving the homeless, but their options are limited. While the county has code blue shelters, someone with mental illness may not be fully aware of the procedures.

“So we’re coming out, trying to get them placed, and coming up with other options,” said Agosto. “Before, officers had their hands behind their backs.”

Agosto said co-responders play a similar role for people with drug and alcohol issues.

“We can get people into assessments same-day, where that wasn’t something officers had the time or the resources to do,” said Agosto. “So it’s a lot of stuff that we’re out there doing.”

Even in cases with firearms, co-responders can help. But they only provide assistance once officers have secured any weapons.

Once the person is under control, Agosto or Bynum would do a quick mental health evaluation. This would help determine whether there is something more at play to the situation.

“So far, nine times out of ten, they’ve needed mental health help and we’re able to get them to the right place instead of being arrested with no help.”

The pilot program launched last December. It will continue through December 2022. Once the first two years expires, county officials will be able to make the program permanent.