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City and Mental Health Center of Denver Expand New Mental Health Co-Responder Program

Program places mental health professionals alongside first responders to assist people with behavioral and mental health issues

DENVER – September 1, 2016 – Every day in Denver, people experiencing a behavioral or mental health crisis encounter law enforcement, corrections officers and first responders because of behaviors related to an unknown, unsupported or untreated mental health need. To help better support those with mental health and behavioral health needs, the city has implemented an expanded co-responder program that now places six mental health professionals alongside police when officers are handling calls related to a person in mental or behavioral health crisis.

“People experiencing a mental or behavioral health crisis deserve access to specialized care that is focused on their personal needs,” Mayor Michael B. Hancock said. “Teaming up more mental health professionals with our patrol officers and first responders will greatly improves the way we connect people in crisis to holistic treatments and resources that support their long-term wellbeing.”

The co-responder team program is a partnership between Denver Human Services’ Office of Behavioral Health Strategies (OBHS), the Denver Police Department (DPD) and the Mental Health Center of Denver (MHCD). The program launched as a pilot with three co-responders in April 2016. By July 2016, the co-responders had worked 427 calls relating to someone in acute mental or behavioral health crisis and diverted 408 people to treatment or services to help them stabilize.

“The Denver Police Department recognizes the importance of having the proper resources in place when contacting citizens who are experiencing behavioral or mental health crisis, which is why we appreciate this partnership,” said Police Chief Robert C. White. “We look forward to the continued collaboration to ensure all our citizens are safe and have the support they need.”

The co-responder program is part of Denver’s Crisis Intervention and Response Unit (CIRU), which supports an overall effort to expand specialized law enforcement and behavioral health strategies tailored to meet the needs of people with behavioral/mental health disorders in Denver.

“We want to improve the lives of all our residents by improving how we support people with mental illness and behavioral health needs when they come to the attention of law enforcement,” said Executive Director of OBHS Regi Huerter. “Through the co-responder approach, individuals with behavioral and mental health concerns are able to connect with mental health professionals immediately and directly problem solve on the best and least restrictive course of treatment.”

Building on the key elements of trauma-informed service delivery: trustworthiness, safety, choice, collaboration and empowerment, CIRU provides an immediate crisis response that works toward a solution-focused outcome for each individual.

“The co-responder program is an important step in supporting those experiencing a mental health issue in the community,” said Carl Clark, MD, president and CEO of the Mental Health Center of Denver.  “By having one of our licensed mental health professionals respond with law enforcement, we are able to provide earlier identification and intervention to those who are in a crisis situation and get them access to treatment and resources that can have a positive impact on their lives.”

The CIRU program, including the co-responder initiative, aims to reduce the number of persons with mental health issues in the jail system; improve information sharing as appropriate across systems and service providers; and reduce overall costs relating to persons with mental or behavioral health concerns including the use of emergency services. The co-responder team works in unison with but does not replace DPD’s mobile crisis team.