Specialized mental health team added to Arapahoe Sheriff’s Office

The new team members of the Behavioral Health Response Program wear civilian clothes and come unarmed to call. You work with substitutes.

CENTENNIAL, Colorado – They’re not cops – and they don’t carry guns.

But a new team is working for them Arapahoe Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) is still on patrol with one purpose: helping with mental health calls.

“We are civilians. We dress in civilian clothes. We are unarmed, ”said Kaleb Kittrell. “We are basically there to engage people on a personal level.”

Kittrell is one of three members of the new Behavioral Health Response program at ACSO. They are known as co-responders and work with proxies to answer calls related to mental health.

“The biggest problem we see today is that the deputies are expected to show up on site and take care of every aspect of everything. We are able to arrive at the crime scene, which may have a behavioral health component, and take that responsibility away from it [deputies,] Kittrell explains.

“We are all licensed as co-responders in the state of Colorado for the treatment of mental illness. We have been in the field for a very long time. So we have a very special specialty. We are able to conduct crisis de-escalations and interventions, then point someone to mental health resources and have them treated over the long term. “

The new program started at the end of May. Previously, ACSO had a contract with an outside mental health agency. Kittrell and the other two co-responders were part of the original partnership and moved to the new program when ACSO moved that program internally. So they started their new roles with a built-in familiarity with the ACSO proxies.

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Kittrell responds to calls that have obvious mental health issues, such as: In other cases, the psychological component only becomes apparent when the representative who replies arrives and connects with the person.

Often there is no criminal element in a call and Kittrell or his mental health team can handle the situation without additional law enforcement intervention.

In addition to the three co-responders already employed, ACSO plans to hire two more soon. The mental health experts have their own vehicles equipped with communication devices and safety features while they work in the field and attend to customers.

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ACSO said the co-responders are only brought to the site if the alternates can ensure their safety, and on occasion it is not safe enough for them to work.

Sgt.Brett Cohn is one of the ACSO officers determining which calls will require co-responders like Kittrell. He said the department used the mental health team on a daily basis, often several times a day.

“I have countless examples of people in a mental crisis. When [deputies] react on site, [the person in crisis] had numerous contacts with law enforcement agencies. We show up in uniform and they close. They don’t want to talk to us, ”explained Cohn.

When they use a co-responder, Cohn says, the proxies make sure the scene is safe enough to get them to work – and then step back and stay out of the situation while the co-responder is with the person works one-to-one in times of crisis.

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“And it’s a completely different situation. They feel good, they feel safe, we stand by a pleasant difference and they do their thing. And that makes a big difference, ”he said.

The difference also applies to law enforcement. Cohn said alternates are not mental health experts and cannot stay with a person in crisis, track their progress and maintain a relationship throughout the process of connecting with the services, as a mental health professional can. Substitutes always have other calls and criminal matters to deal with.

“It’s a great program because they offer resources that I, as an officer, cannot offer,” he said.

Kittrell, a co-responder, has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in psychiatric treatment. Before working with the police, he worked in a community mental health center. Instead of waiting for people in crisis to come to him, he can now go to them in their need.

“Exactly. I love that,” he said. “It’s a really fulfilling job. That’s why I stuck with it, I’ve been in the field for about eight years and every day – I couldn’t dream of doing anything else.”

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