PLEASANTVILLE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Several communities in Westchester County are challenging the usual relationship between police and people struggling with addiction.

Instead of arrests, cops are steering addicts toward treatment with the help of volunteers, CBS2’s Christina Fan reported Monday.

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Police officers with their badges and guns seem like the last people a struggling addict would reach out to for help. But cops in Westchester are trying to change that perception.

“We’re supposed to be solving problems, not just arresting people, and this is a problem that has been knocking on our door,” said Pleasantville Police Chief Erik Grutzner.

Fifteen local police chiefs gathered in Pleasantville on Monday to announce their partnership with the nonprofit Hope Not Handcuffs.

With 1.8 million New Yorkers suffering with substance abuse (and the coronavirus pandemic’s exacerbation of the drug epidemic), officers want to make sure addicts can seek help inside their departments without fear.

“People suffering with an opioid dependency are victims too. Our focus on law enforcement must always remain on helping the victim,” Grutzner said.

The program is fairly simple. Anyone suffering from addiction can walk into a participating department and ask for help. A trained volunteer from Hope Not Handcuffs will arrive within 30 minutes to guide the person into treatment.

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“We have had parents bring their kids in, looking for help,” said Annette Kahrs from the nonprofit.

Many of the “angel” volunteers who dedicate their time have seen addiction destroy the lives of those closest to them.

“I’d rather them get help before it gets them into legal problems, because we all know that it can cause… driving under the influence or, out of desperation, doing larceny,” said Melvin Tanzman from Yorktown.

Hope Not Handcuffs has helped more than 500 people find treatment since it launched in 2019. It’s aiming to break more people out of the chronic cycle of addiction.

Volunteers will work with people with or without insurance to find a treatment option.

The program is also partnering with police departments in Orange, Rockland and Sullivan Counties.

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CBS2’s Christina Fan contributed to this report.

CBSNewYork Team