YORKTOWN, N.Y. – Oftentimes, police officers meet people at their lower points. Now, when it comes to those battling substance use disorders, the Yorktown Police Department said it will offer a helping hand instead of a cold jail cell.

Police Chief Robert Noble, during a press conference on Tuesday, Sept. 1, and later at a Town Board meeting, announced that his department had become the first in Westchester County to join the Hope Not Handcuffs initiative. Twenty-one other departments in Dutchess, Orange, Putnam and Rockland counties have signed up.

“Hope Not Handcuffs is a simple premise,” Noble said. “People who are struggling with addiction who really have nowhere else to turn, they need to know there’s a place of safety for everybody in our community, and that’s your police department.”

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When a person is ready to start on the road to recovery, walking into a police department—or buzzing the intercom, in the age of COVID—starts the process. The officers on duty will reach out to Hope Not Handcuffs, which will dispatch an “angel” (volunteer), who will help the person get into a treatment center.

In each police department there will be an “Angel Bin” filled with forms, “so we can put people into treatment,” said Annette Kahrs, program director. It will also include sweatpants, socks, toiletry kits and other items a person entering such a facility might need.

“We have placed over 350 people successfully,” Kahrs said. “We don’t assess the people ourselves. We contact the facility.”

Noble said his staff is enthusiastic about the program. They will be trained on how to help someone “who comes through the door and says I have nowhere else to turn, I’m an addict, I need help.”

“You’re not going to get locked up. You’re not going to be arrested. We are going to try to help you,” Noble said. “I look forward to signing up, taking the training and becoming an angel with this program…I can’t emphasize enough: We want people to feel safe.”

Noble reiterated that the program is not a “get out of jail free card” for those who have committed crimes.

“If you’re out here dealing, if you’re out here doing something illegal with narcotics and pushing this poison, the men and women behind me in uniforms, they will continue to do their jobs to keep this community as clean and as safe as we can,” Noble said, later adding, “We can’t help if you’re wanted for serious crimes.”

Noble told Yorktown News that the only people who will not be accepted into the program are people wanted for violent crimes and Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders.

Hope Not Handcuffs has 500 trained “angels.” Anyone interested in joining can learn more at tricountycommunitypartnership.org.

“You don’t need any special experience to become an angel; just compassion,” Kahrs said. “You don’t have to be a professional in this field. You just have to be willing and want to help somebody.”

Though the Yorktown Police Department is limiting visitors because of COVID-19, anyone wishing to take advantage of this initiative can call ahead or use the intercom at the front of the department’s headquarters.

“We’re a 24/7 operation,” Noble said. “We don’t take days off. We go every hour, every day, all year round. So, in the dead of night, if you have an issue, we’re going to try and help you.”

When it comes to substance abuse, Noble said, “We can’t arrest our way out of this.”

“This is a group of people that is struggling with addiction, and I’m sure the last place they thought they can go to was a police department,” Noble said. “You know what? We’re going to change the narrative on that.”