In a letter to the Bucks County Commissioners, the solicitor for the Bucks County Police Chiefs Association decried the poor county management that has led to a lack of staff at the Bucks County Correctional Facility (BCCF). That staffing shortage has “started to severely affect policing functions in various municipalities of Bucks County,” Solicitor Richard Hale Pratt wrote in a letter obtained by the Delaware Valley Journal.
“In certain circumstances, BCCF has either been closed to the entry of new prisoners or has refused to accept new prisoners due to alleged issues with ‘medical clearance,’” Pratt said. That “has a direct impact upon Bucks County police departments in the performance of their duties consistent with public safety.”
The prison’s refusal to take new inmates “shifts responsibility to the police department having custody of those persons for extended periods of time,” so “an individual police department must either house the person or assign officers to guard the person (such as in a hospital setting in cases of medical issues) thereby draining a police department’s manpower and the resources that are better applied to protecting the public.”
Pratt added that in many instances, prisoners have been released on unsecured bail when they usually would be required to post bail.
“Bensalem Police Department has had to conduct numerous security details at Doylestown Hospital and Jefferson Torresdale Hospital” because the BCCF refused to take new prisoners who needed “medical clearance.”
They were defendants who were arraigned by a district justice and remanded to prison but are suffering from drug withdrawal or might have high blood pressure, Pratt said.
Sheriff Fred Harran discussed the issues in a recent DV Journal podcast.
“It’s not an ‘R’ and a ‘D’ thing,” said Harran, a 38-year law enforcement professional. “It’s a safety and a police thing. They just don’t want to support the police. I’ve been quiet as long as I can, and I hate to say it, but this is the time for change.”
The letter noted that district justices have become reluctant to set bail because of the “mess of the prisoner intake at BCCF.”
Bucks County now faces increased civil liability, Pratt said. Also, having officers tied up guarding prisoners who should be in jail prevents officers from patrolling the streets and other duties. Smaller departments are especially hard hit by this, Pratt said.
There is also an increased risk of harm to officers by holding prisoners overnight in spaces not designed for that and a chance of defendants escaping. Police departments are not equipped to provide meals, and a prisoner “could literally be sitting on a bench all night waiting for BCCF to pen,” Pratt said.
Pratt asked the county commissioners to address the situation immediately.
“The issue is that the jail does not have a medical component to it,” Harran said. “So the jail will not accept anybody that has any type of medical problem.”
Harran added, “So you have high blood pressure, they make you go to the hospital, and now you’re taking police officers off the streets to go sit at a hospital while a person gets cleared, and you’re posing a potential danger to the hospital.”
Controller Pam Van Blunk and minority Republican Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo are backing Harran. Van Blunk and DiGirolamo are running for commissioner and are on the Nov. 7 ballot.
“Not taking in prisoners when they are brought to the prison causes tremendous problems in all of our townships and boroughs. It takes police officers off the street when they should be responding to our 911 calls and preventing crime by patrolling our streets and neighborhoods,” the two candidates said in a statement to DVJournal.
Harran also slammed the majority Democrats Chair Bob Harvie and Vice Chair Diane Marseglia for their stance that crime has not risen in the county, saying the two are using old numbers.
Harran shared troubling statistics about the rise in crime in Bucks County last year. According to the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System, serious crime increased 18.7 percent between 2021 and 2022. That is 50 percent higher than the stateside increase of 12.7 percent.
In the county, robbery increased by 22.7 percent compared to 13.7 percent statewide; burglary in Bucks increased by 32.9 percent but only 5.9 percent in the state; and auto theft increased by 30.6 percent in Bucks and 27.7 percent in the commonwealth.
“Despite these facts, Commissioners Marseglia and Harvie continue to repeat the same old line that crime is not up,” DiGirolamo and Van Blunk said. “Saying it isn’t, or using old statistics during the COVID closures, doesn’t make it true, and ignoring the problem does not make it go away. Instead, we must support our law enforcement officers and give them the resources they need to keep us safe.
“That is why we gladly voted at a Salary Board meeting to add eight new deputies to help with the dangerous backlog of 7,500 unserved bench warrants.”
Harran said he has only received funding so far for two of those promised new deputies.
Marseglia and Harvie did not respond to a request for comment.