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Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Police partners with Community Reach Center for mental health program

The city’s Police Department has partnered with Community Reach Center (CRC) to provide a mental health co-responder program to help citizens and families in Westminster who are struggling with mental or behavioral health crisis.

The State of Colorado awarded the department a grant to employ two full-time licensed therapists. The clinicians work out of the police department and are available to immediately respond alongside officers to 911 calls and non-emergency calls with a mental health component.

By having co-responder clinicians on staff, the department can now offer expert assistance to people beyond the capability and level of training provided to police officers. 

The program may prevent an individual in crisis from unnecessarily going to the hospital for a mental health evaluation or to jail and into the criminal justice system as a result of escalating behavior, which may be compounded by their crisis. 

“We can now provide immediate intervention with the added benefit of a clinical perspective,” said Police Chief Tim Carlson. “This partnership helps achieve our goal of providing a level of care which meets the needs of the individual, their family and the community.” 

In certain instances, a co-responder may respond independently when there is not a safety risk present. 

The co-responder program helps the police and fire departments focus resources on other high priority demands by reducing the number of repeat calls to the same individuals. Additionally, it will reduce the cost and impact on hospital emergency departments because individuals can be diverted to better resources within the community. 

Clinicians are able to provide continuing assistance to consumers and their families by offering aid and resources to help identify more long term solutions which further diverts people from the criminal justice system. 

They are also able to provide immediate assessments, so appropriate community resources can be identified immediately.  Previously, officers were limited in their options, often leading to minor violations being filed with the courts.

“Instituting this co-response program, with CRC as our partner, will help meet the department’s mission, by providing excellence in the community” said Carlson. “The level of expertise and experience the clinicians bring to the community is unmatched.”

This opportunity builds upon the department’s existing Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) program. The majority of the city’s police officers have received specialized training and are part of CIT. 

In 2019, CIT certified police officers documented 337 contacts which required their specialized training. Over the past several years Westminster and the surrounding communities have experienced a steady increase in the number of situations where someone is struggling with a crisis related to substance use, mental or behavioral health.  

Another benefit is the ongoing training officers will receive by regularly working with and observing experts in the field of mental and behavioral health. The department provides police officers training in the area of mental health and de-escalation, but this provides a regular opportunity for officers to develop better skills in handling these types of calls when a co-responder is unavailable.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, mental illnesses are common throughout the country as nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness.  Mental illness includes many different conditions which vary in degree of severity and frequency. 

Based upon national statistics, approximately 22,000 of the city’s 114,000 residents are impacted by mental illness. The city and Police Department are committed, as part of the strategic plan, to support mental health service providers, advocating for resources to support and help bridge gaps within our community. 

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