CENTENNIAL, Colo. (KDVR) — If you call 911 in Arapahoe County, you may soon see more than a deputy, depending on the call.
For the first time ever, the sheriff’s office has hired full-time licensed clinicians, known as “co-responders.”
The mental health specialists will respond to a wide range of calls, driving their own unmarked cars, equipped with computers and radios.
“It can be really anything, anything that’s an emotionally charged situation,” said Micah Romero. “From domestic violence to people that are considering wanting to hurt themselves, any call can turn into a mental health call.”
Romero is one of three clinicians now working full-time, with plans within the department to hire two more.
The specialists can help de-escalate tense situations, offer counseling and even transport people to mental health facilities, if needed.
It comes as communities across the country call for police reform, including better mental health resources and conflict de-escalation.
“When the co-responder comes on scene, the person that’s in distress is much more relaxed than a law enforcement with our guns, belts, etcetera on,” said Lieutenant Tom Daley.
Daley says he’s already seen progress in the month since the three co-responders were sworn in.
“We’re trained, but we’re not trained fully as much as our co-responders,” he said of his deputies. “With the mental health cases, they’re really not in trouble, we’re there to help them, but there’s a stigma attached to the uniform, so it’s always great to have a co-responder go with us on these calls.”
Julie Jacobs manages the department’s behavioral health response program and says she expects the program to grow significantly in the coming years.
Previously, the department contracted the work to an outside agency, but Jacobs says having the clinicians in-house allows for better relationships within the community and faster response times.
“It has worked. We have avoided uses of force, we’ve avoided improper hospitalization, or over-utilization of emergency rooms,” she says. “We can tailor the program, the way that it meets the needs of the community.”
ACSO is looking to hire two more full-time clinicians, and hopes to have at least one available to respond to mental health calls around the clock.