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York County is hiring behavioral health ‘co-responders’ to work with police

The program aims to reduce arrests and connect people with treatment.

  • Brett Sholtis


(York County) — Police will soon have the option of calling a behavioral health expert to the scene to help people get needed services.

York County Commissioners secured funding to hire several experts, also called “co-responders,” as part of a $17.9 million human services block grant.

Co-responders “will act as liaisons between police and the county’s mental health program to support people who may be experiencing a mental health crisis,” the county said in a news release. “This will help police departments in their responses. It will also free up officers to handle other emergencies.”

Angie Alvarez is York County’s first such employee. The WellSpan Health crisis intervention counselor been working with York Area Regional and Spring Garden police departments for about five weeks.

Alvarez is not a police officer. She doesn’t wear a uniform, and doesn’t carry a firearm. She said police make sure the scene is safe before she is called in. By the time she arrives, an officer has explained who she is to the person in need of services.

This helps to de-escalate the situation for people who need help and aren’t an immediate threat to others, Alvarez said.

Many of her calls involve teens dealing with mental health issues, she said. Without her, police might arrest that teen or take them to the emergency room, depending on the situation.

“But this way, using me to come out, I can help connect the individual to services, keep them from possibly calling 911 again, and get them what they need, whether it’s mental health or substance abuse treatment,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez is also able to follow up with people for days or weeks afterward, something police typically aren’t able to do.

York County District Attorney Dave Sunday said the program will help keep people who haven’t committed serious crimes out of jail.

He said about 65% of the roughly 9,000 crimes that happen each year in York County involve people with behavioral health or addiction issues. Those people often benefit more from treatment than incarceration.

“The benefits to society of decreasing crime on the front end is just overwhelming,” Sunday said.

Sunday says the goal is for each of the county’s 20 police departments to have a co-responder.

He noted that the push for co-responders is part of the county’s changing approach to law enforcement. York County has implemented the Memphis Model of Crisis Intervention for police officers.

“To date, 167 police officers representing 19 different departments have been trained,” the county human services department states in its most recent budget proposal.

Sunday said many of the changes the county has adopted were recommended after a grand jury inquiry into the 2018 death of Everett Palmer, a 41-year-old Black man, while he was in York County Prison. Palmer’s death was tied to “methamphetamine toxicity during physical restraint,” and the grand jury found no wrongdoing by prison personnel. The family contests that account.

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