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Over half of Colorado counties lack mental health co-responding units

Mental health co-responding programs
Posted at 10:35 AM, Sep 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-22 21:55:17-04

CLEAR CREEK COUNTY — In response to the fatal officer-involved shooting in Clear Creek County in June, many advocates are calling for police to prioritize de-escalation when responding to mental health crises.

In June, 22-year-old Christian Glass was shot and killed by a Clear Creek County Sheriff's Deputy after calling 911when his SUV got stuck on a rural road. During the 911 call, Glass appears to be having a mental health crisis.

Last week his lawyers released the body camera footage and the 911 call leading to his final moments. The video shows police breaking his car window and shooting him. The sheriff's office says Glass became argumentative and even tried to stab an officer. However, the video shows Glass never got out of his car and told police how scared he was.

For a crisis like this, 23 counties across Colorado participate in a co-responding program, which pairs a mental health professional with a deputy to de-escalate situations. However, the Clear Creek County Sheriff's Office is not part of any kind of co-responding program.

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office, Colorado Springs Police, and Fountain Police all have co-responding teams to help respond to mental health emergencies. The Behavioral Health Connect Unit (BHCON) combines the sheriff's office and Fountain Police.

In August, the El Paso County Sheriff's Dispatch received 376 mental health-related calls. Of those BHCON helped 177 individuals, treating more than half of them at the scene.

Andrea Wood, the behavioral health manager at UCHealth, supervises the clinicians who are assigned to the BHCON program. She said deputies sometimes start to mirror the skills of clinicians after working with them.

"I'll watch our deputies and our police officers step up and actually do a behavioral health eval on a suicide scale, and do an amazing job at de-escalating patients. So that's the best thing is watching them come together," she said.

The funding for the program comes from Colorado's Behavioral Health Administration, which Wood said was available for all counties through a grant application. However, she said some agencies may have had trouble finding clinicians to fill the roles, which could have kept them from applying for funding.

"It's really, really difficult sometimes to find clinicians and teams that can all work together and so there's a lot of barriers that can happen depending on the rural community and where they are and what services they're able to get," Wood said.

KOAA reached out to the Clear Creek Sheriff's Office to ask if they have plans to become part of a co-responding program. They did not provide a response.

If you are calling 911 for a mental health emergency, you can request the BHCON unit to assist the situation or a crisis intervention trained deputy to respond if they are available.
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