DENVER (Oct. 13, 2021) — Co-responder programs that pair police officers and behavioral health clinicians are successfully diverting people in crisis from the criminal justice system and connecting them to services, according to a new evaluation. The study, funded by the Colorado Department of Human Services’ Office of Behavioral Health (OBH) and conducted by the Colorado Health Institute (CHI), gave insights on how Colorado’s co-responder programs are successfully reaching people with behavioral health needs in their communities.
Co-responder teams specialize in de-escalating situations and connecting those in crisis to appropriate treatment and services. Among more than 25,900 calls fielded by OBH-funded co-responder teams between July 2020 and June 2021, 98% avoided arrest, according to OBH data. In that same timeframe, co-responders provided some form of service to individuals on 86% of active calls, including behavioral health assessments and referrals to community resources. Read this fact sheet for more information on call outcomes.
“We are thrilled that our co-responder programs are working as designed and routing more Coloradans to the right care,” said Robert Werthwein, director of OBH. “Not only are teams helping reduce arrest rates and involuntary holds, they’re also allowing officers to return to the field more quickly. We are proud that co-responder programs are part of the solution to improve community safety.”
The evaluation shows that co-responder programs are reducing involuntary mental health holds and emergency room visits. Involuntary holds dropped from 8.3% of calls in September 2019 to 3.2% in September 2020, and officers reported diverting 9.4% of individuals from emergency rooms, according to the report.
"The trust the co-responders are building in the community is immeasurable,” said Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor. “To be able to provide an alternative to low-level arrests has reduced the burden on our local courts and provides officers with a sense that they can bring the possibility of a more lasting solution to the lives of some of those suffering mental illnesses.”
Co-responder interventions also facilitate officers returning to the field. Between July and September, sites increased the frequency of law enforcement returning to patrol duties from 26.4% to 38.4%. Overall, co-responders reduced unnecessary law enforcement involvement in one of every three calls, according to the evaluation. Read more testimonials from participating police departments and sheriff’s offices.
“Our deputies have come to trust and rely on our co-responders, and that relationship has resulted in a growing program,” said Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle. “A number of the smaller towns and cities that we partner with in our county-led program see this as so valuable, they are beginning to provide some funding out of their municipal budgets to expand hours and coverage. It has been a big success.”
OBH has supported co-responder programs since 2014 and began receiving dedicated state funding through Senate Bills 17-207 and 19-008. The program has an annual budget of more than $7.3 million, drawing from the state’s Marijuana Tax Cash Fund, General Fund and the federal Mental Health Block Grant. The evaluation does not include data on other state-funded co-responder programs, such as the program managed by the Department of Local Affairs.
To learn more about the co-responder approach, watch these videos from El Paso County Sheriff’s Office and Douglas County, two programs featured in the CHI evaluation. There are 28 OBH-funded programs statewide, covering more than 80 communities within the 24 counties listed below, and more than 70 law enforcement agencies participate statewide.
- El Paso
Co-responder programs pair law enforcement and behavioral health specialists to respond to mental health and substance use calls and conduct an immediate behavioral health assessment. There are 28 OBH-funded programs statewide, covering 24 counties and more than 80 communities. More than 70 law enforcement agencies participate statewide.
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