Thornton is looking for people with different ideas and backgrounds to fill a police advisory group, police officials told City Councilors Feb. 8.

During Thornton’s City Council Feb. 8 update session, Deputy Chief of Patrol Greg Reeves briefed councilors on the Thornton Police and Community Team (PaCT.) As well, Deputy Police Chief Jerry Peters also proposed a co-responder program. 

Reeves said that members of the team were selected in April 2021 with the goal to have a diverse group of voices and backgrounds to partner with the Thornton Police Department. 

Reeves described the purpose of the PaCT team should be made up of Thornton residents who work with the department on communication, community initiatives, information sharing, and identifying areas of concern for the residents and department in pursuit of collaborative public safety. 

Reeves said that he expects the team to engage with police officials in conversations and discuss training, policy and procedures that challenge the normal way of doing things. 

Reeves said he hopes that conversations about policing are coming from more than just the officers but from the community at large. PaCT members, he hopes, can start these discussions with residents as well.

The department includes one member from each of Thornton’s seven police sectors. For the future of PaCT members, Reeves looks to quarterly meetings, a potential monthly community newsletter, ride-alongs, more data and information sharing and city and police community events. 

Co-Responder Program 

Peters said that the police department proposed a co-responder program to assist people experiencing mental health crises. 

He said the department applied for a grant to fund a co-responder program. In this program, t a licensed clinician or practitioner would, partner with patrol officers to go on designated calls, work with service providers to ensure better outcomes and care and to follow up with frequent clients about their services. 

“What we’re looking for is someone that’s there immediately when the person is in crisis,” Peters said. “They’re there to deescalate, calm down, start doing an initial assessment, look for better outcomes.”

He said that studies on co-responder programs throughout Colorado have reduced incarceration by 98 percent. 

Peters’ vision for the program includes four practitioners, including a coordinator, a caseworker and two mental health clinicians, better on-duty coverage for calls and opportunities for follow-up, and reduced trauma associated with involuntary mental health holds.    

Thornton began addressing mental health crises in 2017 when the department saw increased police holds due to mental health, Peters said. There were 727 holds in 2017 compared to 565 in 2021.

Peters said a hold can only be carried out by a doctor or a police officer if the affected individual is in immediate danger to themselves or others. He said the number of holds only accounts for about half of those needing mental health assistance because not all crises put someone or others in danger. 

“Are we getting folks constantly calling back because they are not getting the services they need? If so, how do we minimize that?” he said. 

He points to numbers decreasing from the beginning of telehealth to now because of pairing folks in a mental health crisis with the services needed.

The department first began addressing mental health crises on calls with their telehealth program. For this program, an officer could call a clinician at Community Reach if they were unsure of a situation they were responding. The clinician then could offer advice on the situation. 

Peters said that the program morphed into a mobile response team, with a team from Community Reach that could come out to intervene and interview folks to help provide services they saw fit, such as the hospital or taking them back to Community Reach. 

“How do we make sure we are not unnecessarily putting people on holds or getting folks the service they need?” he said. 

Peters also discussed the department’s Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), where officers learn how to handle mental health crises and pass a series of tests, putting them into hypothetical situations. 

He said that about 30 percent of the department is CIT certified, and about 63 percent of dispatch and patrol officers are certified.