STEELTON, Pa. (WHTM) — A new approach to policing is meant to save lives. Because so much of what police respond to involves mental health issues, police are bringing social workers on calls.
Harrisburg, Hummelstown, along with Susquehanna, Lower Paxton, Derry, and Swatara Township police departments use co-responders. And now Steelton is the seventh department to join the ranks, with eight co-responders throughout the county.
Calling 911 because of a mental health issue can be scary for some people not wanting to deal with the police.
“A lot of times people don’t want to talk to us but they’ll talk to her which has helped out tremendously,” said K-9 Patrolman Scott Schaeffer.
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They’ll talk to Jordan Rolko because she’s a co-responder with a vest but not a badge.
“Just knowing that I’m there, and I’m not an officer, and I’m there to help them and give them resources that maybe the police department doesn’t have or don’t know about, I think that’s very, pretty, pretty helpful for them,” Rolko said.
The goal is to reduce serious mental illness in the criminal justice system and their work is paying off.
“2021 we saw just shy of 2,000 referrals across all the co-responders and 6% of those resulted in charges,” said Dr. Ashley Yinger, criminal justice program coordinator with the Dauphin County District Attorney’s office.
In her position, Yinger is in charge of the eight co-responders.
“What we’ve seen so far is very positive outcomes. They are linking individuals to services across human services, whatever the treatment need is for the person,” Yinger said.
Rolko has been on the job for just a month in Steelton, she’s already making a difference.
“It could be a mental health issue. It could be a substance use issue. It could be just someone going through a hard time and they don’t have either of those issues,” Rolko said.
She responds to calls but also does follow-up calls of her own.
“So instead of all this police interaction with them they have me as a resource now and they have CMU as a resource or drug and alcohol or any of those places,” Rolko said.
Interim police chief William Shaub says having a co-responder is important, with Steelton having the second-highest per capita cases of mental health calls in the county.
“To have them have the ability not to call the police but to reach out to her and other avenues, other agencies, to get the help they need,” Shaub said.
Shaub says having Rolko takes some of the stress off officers.
“They are in favor of this program. They love having her with us. It relieves some of our officers from going back to calls for the same person,” Shaub said.
Lower Swatara Township Police will soon join the co-responder program too, sharing Rolko with Steelton.