A large group of Douglas County staff and officials stand together at the county building
The Douglas County commissioners and mental health coresponder team members pose for a photo. Credit: Courtesy of Douglas County

When a program that pairs law enforcement with mental health workers to respond to personal crises in Douglas County first launched in 2017, it started out with one team that included a Castle Rock police officer and a Douglas County sheriff’s deputy.

Now, the program has nine teams that include officers and deputies from Castle Rock, the Douglas County, Lone Tree and Parker.

Two of those teams focus solely on youth response, covering every school — public, private and charter — across Douglas County.

Douglas County’s coresponder program aims to help adults and youth who experience a mental health crisis avoid the emergency room or jail and instead find the support they need, the county said in a news release.

And as of this month, the coresponder teams have served more than 7,500 people, including about 1,000 youth, preventing dangerous situations along the way.

“The coresponse model has saved and enhanced thousands of lives in Douglas County,” Douglas County Commission Chair Abe Laydon, said in the news release.

County commissioners voted to honor the teams’ work by declaring Sept. 18-24 this year as Douglas County Coresponders and Crisis Clinicians Week.

The unanimous vote came at the Sept. 12 commissioners meeting, where officials also underscored the work of the county’s Homeless Engagement Assistance and Resource Team, or HEART, a similar coresponder program aimed at helping the unhoused.

“I am so proud of the collaboration between our deputies and mental health professionals, who are the compassionate bridge that connects those in crisis with the help they need,” Sheriff Darren Weekly said in the news release. “This week is a reminder that empathy and teamwork can truly make a difference in people’s lives.”

Here’s a look at the impact of the programs and how to find help if you or someone you know needs it.

How the program works

To date, the nine units in the county’s coresponder — or Community Response Teams — program have responded to more than 3,900 active 911 calls and received more than 6,400 referrals, the county’s Sept. 13 release said.

About 1,400 people have avoided an unnecessary visit to the emergency room, and 589 have avoided jail, the release says.

That’s because the CRT law enforcement officers and deputies can divert people from jail in the right situations.

“Certain crimes, such as felonies or crimes against a person, do not allow for discretion,” county staff said in a statement. “However, there are lesser crimes, such as misdemeanors, that allow for a CRT officer to issue a summons with a court date and release an individual directly to a behavioral health facility for care.”

That allows the team to address a person’s mental health concerns first and “collateral damage from the mental health crisis, such as criminal charges, second,” the statement said.

The program also involves fire and emergency medical services personnel, who play a vital role.

“This partnership allows fire/EMS to arrive on scene and complete medical clearances that mental health facilities often need prior to admitting a client,” the statement continued. “By completing this medical clearance on scene, it allows our team to transport individuals directly to mental health treatment facilities.”

Without the program, a person could spend time sitting in an emergency department waiting room or treatment bay before receiving mental health care, often “exacerbating mental health crisis symptoms, and taking up valuable emergency room resources and staff,” the statement said.

Countywide coverage

Each law enforcement officer assigned to a community response team has been deputized by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, allowing the officer and their mental health clinician to respond countywide without being limited by jurisdiction, according to county staff.

Sometimes, the program serves people more than once if needed.

“The Community Response Team will work with an individual or family as many times as necessary to help them through a crisis situation or period in their lives,” county staff’s statement said.

About 7,500 individuals have been served during 11,600 “successful encounters” through the program, according to county staff.

The county’s news release said “thousands of lives” have been saved by the coresponder program in Douglas County.

Asked about that claim, county staff responded in the statement: “The CRT program feels confident in its assessment that the program has helped save thousands of lives.”

“This data has been collected through quantitative measures — like a reduction in suicide attempts and completions, a reduction in ED visits, etc. — as well as qualitative measures, such as testimonials, phone calls, emails and conversations had with the community members that we serve,” the statement said.

Eye on homelessness

People who end up living on the streets often struggle with mental illness, addiction or other problems that can stand in the way of getting back on their feet, and the county also deploys a coresponse program aimed at helping the unhoused population.

The HEART program began operations in September 2022 and began collecting data in October that year, according to the county.

The HEART program has served a total of 212 individuals since October 2022, according to the county.  

That’s 212 unique individuals who have been enrolled in the HEART program in the county’s Homeless Management Information System database from October 2022 to Sept. 14 this year. 

HEART is a coresponder program that pairs resource “navigators” with law enforcement to respond to community calls regarding homelessness. 

Navigators “proactively and directly interact with those experiencing homelessness in a compassionate way,” the county’s website says.

The workers gather information on a person’s needs, provide case management and make referrals to appropriate community services.

“Case management” is a term that generally refers to helping manage a person’s situation as it relates to finding resources.

“This community approach helps ensure people experiencing homelessness do not end up in emergency rooms or jail,” the county’s website says.

Programs in other counties

Nearby, the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office started its coresponder program in October 2019, and it has made thousands of contacts since then, according to the sheriff’s office.

For more information on other coresponder programs in Colorado, including some others in the Denver metro area, see the state’s website at bha.colorado.gov/behavioral-health/co-responder.

If you or someone you know needs help

Douglas County’s Community Response Teams are dispatched in response to specific 911 calls, as determined by the dispatcher. Aside from calling 911 for help, you can contact these resources if you or a loved one are experiencing a mental health crisis or thoughts of suicide:

• Dial 988 for 24/7, free and confidential support for mental health, substance use or emotional crisis.

• Colorado Crisis Services: Call 1-844-493-TALK(8255) or text TALK to 38255. The organization has trained counselors who are available 24/7 to work with those in crisis and the people supporting them.

Separately, to notify Douglas County’s homelessness assistance team about someone who may be unhoused and in need of help, call 303-660-7301 or complete the online referral form at tinyurl.com/DouglasHEART. In an emergency, dial 911. 

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