AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — Over the last week, the FOX31 Problem Solvers have been asking a lot of questions about several shootings in the metro where police fired their weapons.
Five police shootings happened in eight days in the Denver metro area. Three of them involved Aurora officers and three of the shootings ended in death.
Here’s one question: Could Sunday night’s police shooting on an RTD bus have been avoided using Aurora’s police co-responder program? The short answer is no, but the reasons are a little complicated — especially for a department trying to enhance how it responds to certain situations.
“We have two different crisis intervention programs here in Aurora,” Courtney Tassin said. She is the crisis intervention programs manager for Aurora. She oversees the following two programs: the Mobile Response Team, where an EMT or a paramedic is paired with a licensed mental health professional, and the Crisis Response Team, where a mental health trained officer is paired with a clinician.
Why weren’t co-responders there before the shooting?
So did the crisis response team respond Sunday night in Aurora?
During a news conference Sunday night, Interim Police Chief Dan Oates said, “My understanding is there was no one with those skills working at the time of the event.”
FOX31 learned it’s because there were zero mental health clinicians available. But even if they were, officials told the Problem Solvers this call didn’t come in as a mental health call, so they probably wouldn’t have responded anyway.
“They’re really best utilized when the call is primarily mental health,” Tassin said. She couldn’t speak on Sunday night’s shooting because it’s an active investigation, but she shared some insight into the normal process.
“Since there’s a crime in process, obviously that criminal aspect takes precedence, especially if it’s an armed crime, because you’ve got the duty to protect life and officers have a job and officers have to be officers,” Tassin said. “And to be completely transparent, even if our team was dispatched or our team did respond, our officer [is going] to be in his officer role at that time, and our clinician will likely remain in the car. So that’s one of the benefits of having both of those disciplinaries within one unit.”
Community calls for change
Meanwhile, community leaders spoke at the Capitol on Monday and called for police accountability and transparency in light of the recent violence and police shootings, some even alluding to a need for more co-responder programs.
Dr. Robert Davis is with the Denver Task Force to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety.
“We have to come up with additional responses versus sending armed officers to every response,” Davis said.
He added: “If we send them into situations that can easily be handled by other professionals, they’re going to use the training and the tools available to them and we’re going to continue to see these types of situations over and over.”
APD confirmed they’re also in the process of switching providers — another reason they currently have zero mental health clinicians.
DPD has a similar program known as the STAR Program, which has been effective. A study this year showed it reduced crime and costs.