News Flash

City of Durango News Flash

Posted on: February 12, 2021

Police, behavioral health co-responder program set to launch in March

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The city of Durango and Axis Health System (AHS) are putting the finishing touches on a program that allows a Durango police officer and behavior health specialist to jointly respond to calls.

The model offers a more comprehensive approach to complex situations involving a behavioral health component. Co-responder teams respond to mental health calls that meet specific criteria with the goal of assessing individuals’ social needs and linking them to appropriate behavioral health resources.

“Our officers are spending more time helping people with social and emotional needs,” Chief of Police Bob Brammer said. “To respond differently, we need different capacity. This program provides that.” 

A behavioral health specialist and law enforcement officer team are currently training as a team. AHS is hiring additional behavioral health professionals for the program, which is funded by the city and AHS. Co-responder teams will respond to calls within Durango city limits during certain days and times.

“We expect to go live with the program by the beginning of March,” Brammer said. “Until then, we are training and learning, making an effort and impacting the community as we grow.”

The Durango Police Department has worked closely with AHS and the 911 Communications Center in connecting with other agencies to learn about best practices for launching co-responder programs. 

Co-responder programs in other parts of the U.S. and Colorado have demonstrated improved interactions between law enforcement and people they serve while helping reduce stigma associated with asking for help. Benefits include: 

  • More individuals connected to appropriate services instead of being arrested, put in mental health holds or emergency transports.

  • Community members having more trust in law enforcement. Individuals who interact with co-responder teams are more likely to accept help and follow through on key referrals from the team.
     
  • Improved referral capacity from 911 dispatch. Since co-responder teams cannot respond to every call, robust referral protocols based on field experience assist law enforcement in better assisting community members in need of behavioral health or other services.

  • Connection to resources and follow-up. Once legal consequences are ruled out, co-responders can assist individuals in a variety of ways, including connections to resources, transport to a hospital or clinic or support for family members and others on-scene.  

“We are incredibly excited to be partnering with the city and Durango police in offering this new pilot program in Durango,” Shelly Burke, CEO of Axis Health System said. “Nationally, there is a recognition that a portion of the calls for law enforcement response involve causes or symptoms that are outside of the expertise or resources of most police departments.” 

“Community Mental Health Center staff increase the range of response options that can be offered when additional social or behavioral health services may be appropriate. We feel the co-responder program can build a better bridge between social and health needs that may be part of certain emergency 911 calls.” 

For more information about AHS, visit AXIShealthsystem.org

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