Colo. sheriff’s office to pair mental health specialists with deputies

Before the Colorado Springs Police Department started its Community Response Team to better assist residents dealing with mental health issues, one woman was calling 911 about 300 times a year. But in those situations, officers were limited to three options: to neutralize the situation as best as possible and leave the person as they were; transport them to city emergency rooms also unequipped to handle psychological needs; or take the person to jail.

At the time, about 90 percent of people who officers deemed in need of immediate treatment were sent to the ER, according to police Cmdr. Scott Whittington. Thanks to the CRT team, which is comprised of an officer, a mental health professional and a paramedic, those commitments are now down to about 10 percent, he said.

The majority of patients now stay in their home and receive specialized care plans for addressing their mental health needs while reducing their reliance on emergency services, Whittington said. And while CRT is doing its job, patrol officers are free to handle other priority calls.

The Sheriff’s Office applied for and has been granted Colorado Department of Human Services money to start its own five-year co-responder program, which will pair a behavioral health specialist with a deputy on calls where mental health is believed to be a concern. While the final grant amount has not been determined, the CDHS said it will offer up to $362,500 to each of the eight Colorado communities selected for the project.

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