‘There’s no way we’re going to arrest our way out’ City, Bangor police offer new program
Administrators and police officials of Bethlehem and Bangor announced in the city Rotunda Nov. 16 a new program designed to help residents suffering during the ongoing opioid crisis. Called the Bethlehem/Bangor Police Assisting in Recovery program, or BPAIR, it allows people who want help initiating their recovery from addiction to go directly to the police and ask for it.
BPAIR allows residents to call the police, approach an officer, or visit the department at city hall and voluntarily request treatment without facing arrest for possession if they surrender what they’ve got on them. One-hundred fifty officers between the two departments have undergone additional training to assist those in need, with the goal of getting people through an intake meeting and to a treatment facility as quickly as possible.
Bethlehem Health Director Kristen Wenrich said there were about 1,500 overdose-related hospital admittances in Lehigh and Northampton counties in 2016, with over 200 deaths, and as of mid-November, the city had already had 158 overdose incidents this year.
Police and governments are looking beyond mere legal means and toward compassion to aid the addicted, and the ease with which people can find drugs such as heroin and increasing dependency on such by those incapable of breaking free from prescription drug use is prolonging the epidemic nationwide. “Both police departments recognize that jailing and arresting users will not stem the surge of overdoses and deaths,” Wenrich said.
That sentiment was shared by Bethlehem Chief Mark DiLuzio and Bangor Chief Scott Felchock, and was directly addressed in a video they used to highlight the benefits of the program. In it, a former Gloucester, Mass. Police chief introduces their home-grown program from 2015 and is credited by a resident for saving his life. BPAIR is based on that program.
In the video, former Chief Leonard Campanello was explicit in his belief that arrests were not the answer to the suffering opiate addicts are facing. “There’s no way we’re going to arrest our way out of the addiction crisis in this country.”
DiLuzio said BPAIR is just one of the ways the city is combatting the crisis, and the department had already gotten two walk-ins before the announcement, and both people were in rehab facilities. “Some people are saying the police should be out there fighting crime. In reality, with programs like this we are fighting crime.” He said many minor crimes are committed by people desperate to feed their addictions, and said that by finding them help police are serving the community by preventing criminal activity.
Residents seeking help are encouraged to approach an officer, call the department at 610-867-7187 or visit the department from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, if possible. Residents arriving with a more immediate after-hour need will
Because it’s made possible by a one-year state Department of Crime and Delinquency grant, only Bethlehem residents are eligible, but Felchock and Wenrich said nobody will simply be turned away. For help or information, visit https://apps.ddap.pa.gov/gethelpnow/ or call 1-800-662-4357.