Colorado Sheriff’s Office to Pair Mental Health Specialists with Deputies

The Gazette

By Kaitlin Durbin

Before the Colorado Springs Police Department started its Community Response Team to better assist residents dealing with mental health issues, one woman was calling 911 about 300 times a year.

Other similar “super-users” could tie up officers’ time for hours, though the person wasn’t committing a crime and didn’t pose a risk to the community. But in those situations, officers were limited to three options: to neutralize the situation as best as possible and leave the person as they were; transport them to city emergency rooms also unequipped to handle psychological needs; or take the person to jail.

At the time, about 90 percent of people who officers deemed in need of immediate treatment were sent to the ER, according to police Cmdr. Scott Whittington. Thanks to the CRT team, which is comprised of an officer, a mental health professional and a paramedic, those commitments are now down to about 10 percent, he said.

The majority of patients now stay in their home and receive specialized care plans for addressing their mental health needs while reducing their reliance on emergency services, Whittington said. And while CRT is doing its job, patrol officers are free to handle other priority calls.

“If you talk to officers and ask them what the best program the Police Department has developed in the last decade they will say the CRT team, because they used to feel like they’re not solving things, they’re just putting a Band-Aid on it and they’ll be back tomorrow,” Whittington said. Now, the program “gets the right people seeing the citizens instead of a police officer.”

El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder wants to share in that success.

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