Colorado announces five new co-responder programs that pair law enforcement with behavioral health professionals

DENVER (July 27, 2020) — The Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS), Office of Behavioral Health (OBH) has funded five new co-responder programs that pair law enforcement with behavioral health specialists. The new partnerships expand on a model that is successfully decreasing arrests among individuals experiencing behavioral health crises and connecting them to services, according to a new OBH-sponsored report conducted by the Colorado Health Institute (CHI), an independent research and evaluation organization. 

Colorado's co-responder programs pair law enforcement and behavioral health specialists to respond to mental health and substance use calls and conduct an immediate behavioral health assessment. The new partnerships—hosted in Arvada, Boulder County, Summit County, Eagle County and Westminster—bring the statewide total to 26 OBH-funded programs, serving 23 counties and 57 communities. More than 55 law enforcement agencies across the state participate in co-responder programs. 

“The co-responder model is a key way to improve safety for everyone—Coloradans experiencing distress, their communities and law enforcement agencies,” said Robert Werthwein, director of OBH. “By diverting these individuals from the criminal justice system when possible, we can get them the help they need and reduce their chances of recidivism.” 

The programs support officers in de-escalating situations and connecting those in crisis to appropriate treatment and services. The CHI evaluation of eight co-responder programs found that about 40 percent of the teams reported always or often diverting individuals from mental health holds, and the majority said they always or often avoided transporting clients to emergency rooms. Between July 2019 and May 2020, co-responder teams responded to 10,491 calls, 98 percent of which did not result in arrest, according to OBH data. 

The CHI report suggests co-responder programs are especially effective for serving community members with intensive behavioral health needs. Among individuals whom co-responder teams served three times or more, 68.8 percent were enrolled in behavioral health services, according to the CHI analysis. 

“We have developed a partnership with Mental Health Partners to provide professional mental health co-responders,” said Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle. “This is an outstanding example of how intervening with the appropriate resources at a time of need can de-escalate tense situations, provide compassionate care, get people the help they need, and avoid the use of the jail or the emergency room in many, many cases. We are proud to be part of this innovation in mental health crisis services.” 

OBH has supported co-responder programs since 2014 and began receiving dedicated state funding through Senate Bills 17-207 and 19-008. In Fiscal Year 19-20, OBH-funded co-responder programs spent approximately $5 million. OBH funds for the program come from the state’s Marijuana Tax Cash Fund, General Fund and the federal Mental Health Block Grant. 

Despite state budget cuts this fiscal year to co-responder funding from Senate Bill 19-008, OBH expects to increase overall investment in co-responder programs this fiscal year through CARES Act funding from House Bill 20-1411 and other federal dollars. OBH is still finalizing the FY 20-21 budget for OBH-funded co-responder programs. 

“Implementing a behavioral health co-responder program has been a force multiplier for my agency,” said Rick D. Brandt, Chief of Police for Evans, Colorado. “Not only are we now able to immediately connect individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis with services that can help them, we have lessened the burden on the criminal justice system and local hospital emergency departments. Officers get back in service quicker when a co-responder is present to offer assistance and services.”

To learn more about the co-responder approach, watch these videos from El Paso County Sheriff’s Office and Douglas County, two programs featured in the CHI study. Including the new programs, co-responder teams serve the following counties: 

  • Adams
  • Arapahoe
  • Baca
  • Boulder
  • Broomfield
  • Crowley
  • Delta
  • Denver
  • Douglas
  • Eagle
  • El Paso
  • Fremont
  • Jefferson
  • Lake
  • Larimer
  • Mesa
  • Montrose
  • Otero
  • Pitkin
  • Prowers
  • Pueblo
  • Summit
  • Weld

Media contact:
Madlynn Ruble, Deputy Director of Communications
madlynn.ruble@state.co.us
303.866.3411