ARAPAHOE COUNTY, Colo. – In just three weeks, Arapahoe Sheriff’s Office co-responders, also known as Licensed Mental Health Clinicians, answered 118 service calls with proxies regarding a mental health situation.
Three co-responders were sworn in in late May and became district employees after the sheriff’s office terminated their contract with a community mental health agency. Two more doctors are in the hiring phase.
In 2019, the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office launched the Behavioral Health Response Program, which connects proxies with co-responders when a call involves someone with a mental illness or a person with a mental crisis.
The goal of the co-responder is to de-escalate situations and to connect the person in need with vital resources.
Under the community health department’s contract, co-responders drove to the crime scene with deputies, but now, under the direction of the sheriff’s office, clinicians have access to two unmarked cars, giving them more freedom to respond to various calls across the county. The vehicles are also equipped with a cage to transport people to the hospital or other approved locations.
Kaleb Kittrell began working under contract as a co-responder at the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office in July 2020 and became a district employee in May 2021. The vehicle he drives is equipped with a dispatch radio for monitoring emergency calls and a laptop. Dispatch will flag calls for clinicians, but Kittrell says it will also rate the calls itself and listen for keywords and phrases such as “erratic behavior” and “rambling speech” to decide if it’s a call to answer and listen to can help him.
“We are dressed in civilian clothes, we are unarmed. That sometimes allows us to meet someone in crisis on one level and maybe reduce the feeling of threat and intimidation, ”Kittrell said.
If the officers determine that the person in the crisis is not a threat and has not committed a crime, the clinician will take the case and the proxy can take to the streets again.
In 2020, between one and three co-responders answered 1,600 calls involving a person with a mental illness. Data shows clinicians saved MPs 230 hours.
Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office Sgt.Brett Cohn has been working on calls with the help of clinicians since 2019. He says they have a huge impact on the field.
“You can offer resources that law enforcement agencies cannot,” Cohn said. They are clinicians, they have additional training. “
He says that an officer in uniform can be seen as intimidating or threatening to some people.
“They see our uniforms and immediately don’t want to talk to us, they don’t want to deal with us,” said Cohn.
Julie Jacobs, the manager of the Behavioral Health Response Program, says mental health specialists also respond to verbal disputes, domestic violence, trespassing, and shoplifting calls.
According to Jacobs, the main goal of the program is to save proxy time, minimize unnecessary arrests, and connect people with vital resources.
Cohn recalls two opioid addicts who sat in a car outside a store on a snowy day last year. He says someone called to report the two people. Cohn says that thanks to the co-responder, the department was able to help the two addicts, something he couldn’t have done without their help.
“We took them to a hotel, we took them off the street, got them out of the freezing cold and did everything in our power to help them rehabilitate,” said Cohn.
Jacobs expects the number of calls to which co-responders answer will increase in 2021 when they get all five clinicians on board. She hopes to be able to double the crisis intervention team in the future.