Cops, Courts and Fire Elections

Crime Takes Center Stage In Bucks County Commissioners Race

Crime emerges as the primary focus in the Bucks County Commissioners’ election, with both campaigns emphasizing their commitment to law enforcement and public safety.

File photo.

Crime has become the big issue in the 2023 election for the Bucks County Commissioners’ office.

Republican candidates Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo, an incumbent from Bensalem Township, and Bucks County Controller Pamela Van Blunk, of Doylestown Township, and incumbent Democratic commissioners Bob Harvie, of Falls Township, and Diane Ellis-Marseglia, of Middletown Township, have been focusing on the issue.

While crime has become the focal point of the campaign, the commissioners typically have a limited role in day-to-day law enforcement in Bucks County.

Democrats and Republicans have been pushing out advertisements and talking about support for law enforcement and the candidates’ criminal justice platforms.

Gene DiGirolamo and Pamela Van Blunk; Diane Ellis-Marseglia and Bob Harvie.

Both campaigns have said their candidates are supporters of law enforcement.

“Bob and Diane’s top priority as county commissioners is to keep Bucks County safe,” said Jordan Abelson, the campaign spokesperson for Harvie and Ellis-Marseglia.

“We are proud to stand behind our team’s record of support for law enforcement, and their commitment to fight to keep Bucks County safe,” Bucks County Republican Committee Chairperson Pat Poprik said.

The Bucks County Fraternal Order of Police has endorsed the Republicans, and the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police, who represents city officers who work in Philadelphia but live in Bucks County, have endorsed the Democrats. The Republicans also boast the endorsement of the Pennsylvania State Trooper Association Lodge.

Democratic and Republican sources have said polling shows that crime is important to voters in Bucks County.

An analysis of crime statistics for Bucks County shows violent crime rates have remained steady and not have seen large jumps over the past five years. On a per capita basis, violent crime in Bucks County is reported to be down over the same period.

Non-violent crime, which includes thefts and burglary, was dropping between 2018 and 2021, but it has seen an increase between 2021 and 2022. The state data shows reports of non-violent crime incidents went from 5,999 in 2021 to 7,393 in 2022, which mirrors a statewide trend.

The Pennsylvania State Police run the website where police agencies report crime stats. Troopers warn that the “accuracy of the statistics depends primarily on the adherence of each contributor on established standards of reporting.”

See Levittown-Area Crime Rates

Bensalem Township Public Safety Director William McVey, who oversees the township’s police department, has said his community has seen an uptick in crime, which he blamed on a spillover from Philadelphia.

While crime has become the focal point of the campaign, the commissioners typically have a limited role in day-to-day law enforcement in Bucks County.

The commissioners don’t operate a police force for general patrol or investigative work, and most police services in the county are provided and funded by municipalities or the state. Most criminal charges filed in Bucks County are violations of state law and not county ordinances.

In Bucks County, according to numbers released in recent years, there are approximately 900 law enforcement officers and around 50 police agencies.

When asked by this news organization, the Democratic and Republican campaigns both said they are not proposing a countywide police force that would put law enforcement duties more in the hands of the commissioners’ office. Allegheny County is the only county government in the state to run a countywide police force that handles general law enforcement duties.,, and spoke with members of law enforcement and local government, and reviewed public records and state laws to examine how much county commissioners have to do with law enforcement.

The Bucks County Commissioners only have control of one law enforcement agency – the Bucks County Rangers, a department of around 20 law enforcement officers who are assigned to patrol county property and parks across 608 square miles. Additionally, the commissioners oversee a 30-person armed security unit, which does not have general law enforcement authority. The uniformed security force screens visitors, patrols, and responds to medical emergencies at county buildings in Bristol Township, Doylestown Borough, and Doylestown Township.

A Bucks County Rangers SUV. File photo.

The commissioners do play a role in providing mental health and human services, which can have impacts on the criminal justice system.

The commissioners are among the members on the Bucks County Prison Oversight Board, which oversees the Bucks County Department of Corrections. Additionally, the county’s governing body runs the 9-1-1 center, operates the countywide emergency management agency, can work with municipalities on grants or other supports, can implement certain ordinances, and runs public safety training centers for police, fire, emergency medical services.

The commissioners do oversee and approve the budget for all county, court, and row office operations. The commissioners and their financial officers work with the row offices on budgets for the Bucks County Sheriff’s Office and the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office, which employs prosecutors and a team of detectives who operate across the county. However, those agencies operate under the elected row officers, who presently are both Republicans.

Funding for the sheriff’s office, which has a different focus than a municipal police department, was part of a dispute when Harvie and Ellis-Marseglia voted last year against a request to fund eight deputy positions for the sheriff’s office, which is run by Fred Harran, a Republican and longtime member of law enforcement. DiGirolamo and Van Blunk voted for the funding as part of the salary board.

Sheriff Fred Harran speaking. File photo.
Credit: Tom Sofield/

Harran said at the time the money was important so that his office could be better staffed to serve thousands of outstanding warrants.

The situation involving the eight deputies was resolved when the three commissioners voted to provide $1 million in the county budget to fund to the sheriff’s office to fill the roles.

In late summer, Harran told this news organization the issue had been settled, and the office was staffed well enough to be able to provide a deputy as a school resource officer in a Central Bucks County high school. The decision to provide the deputy to the school, a first for the county, was made by Harvie, Ellis-Marseglia, DiGirolamo, and Van Blunk, who are members of the Bucks County Salary Board.

The current commissioners – two Democrats and a Republican – have had an impact on law enforcement, according to comments from officials, through creating a co-responder program that embeds social workers with police departments. The program is now in most parts of the county and police departments join voluntarily. The program does not replace police officers, but allows them to focus on police work while social workers tackle mental health or substance issues that don’t require a police response.

Falls Township Chief of Police Nelson Whitney said in August that the co-responder program has been “truly wonderful” and helps his department.

“For decades, we responded to calls for service involving mental health issues. If the person involved was not in crisis, often we drove away. We got them through the night, but didn’t really help them in the long-term. This is where our co-responders shine,” Whitney said.

The county is constructing a new diversion center created to divert people with mental issues from the criminal justice system when appropriate. It has the support of corrections officials.

The commissioners breaking ground.
Credit: Tom Sofield/

The current commissioners have offered bipartisan support for the county’s mental health court and substance abuse treatment programs, which are tied to the criminal justice system.

Harvie and Ellis-Marseglia’s campaign pledged the candidates would “continue to vote to increase funding for our men and women in law enforcement and expand programs that build upon their record of lowering crime.”

Abelson, the Democrats’ spokesperson, said crime will be a top priority for the candidates.

“That is why they invested an additional $1 million in funding for law enforcement and created a Co-Responder program so our police officers can focus on stopping crime, not mental health emergencies,” she said.

“We are proud that under their watch violent crime has dropped across Bucks County and when re-elected they will continue to invest in our law enforcement to keep our communities safe,” Abelson added, using the per capita crime rate, which shows a drop in violent crime.

The Democrats said they also “plan on continuing to invest in law enforcement and expanding services focused on rehabilitation, treatment, and prevention.”

Ableson said the co-responder program has been a success.

“We’ve heard from chiefs of police and officers across the county that the co-responder program has been an effective addition to their departments,” she said.

File photo.

The DiGirolamo and Van Blunk campaign said they will continue to ensure the sheriff’s office, corrections department, and 9-1-1 center are funded and have the resources they need.

The Republicans said the “county should act as a partner with the sheriff’s department, local municipal police departments, and with the state police in the municipalities under their jurisdiction.”

“Regular meetings with police chiefs and other top law enforcement officials will be just one part of their larger plan, and we look forward to sharing that message over the next several weeks,” the campaign said.

Poprik, the county GOP head, said crime and public safety will continue to be a major focus on the Republicans’ campaign.

“It’s an issue that is important to Bucks County voters. Families have nervously watched as more and more crime from Philadelphia makes its way into Bucks County, and they expect their elected officials to address it,” she said.

About the author

Tom Sofield

Tom Sofield has covered news in Bucks County for 12 years for both newspaper and online publications. Tom’s reporting has appeared locally, nationally, and internationally across several mediums. He is proud to report on news in the county where he lives and to have created a reliable publication that the community deserves.

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