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Broomfield police to get boost with mental health calls

Jennifer Rios | 02/26/2018

Broomfield police officers aren’t counselors or psychiatrists, but as the county grows and funding for mental health services remains inadequate, they continue to deal with residents suffering mental illness.

A grant for up to $362,500 a year for up to five years, will change the way these residents are treated by inserting a clinician into the mix early to build relationships and bridge the gap between citizens and mental health services.

In October, the state released a program that offered eight grants for co-responder programs and four LEAD Pilot diversion programs that focus on drug offenses. , four of which are for opioid-related programs.

Broomfield police worked with Broomfield Health & Human Services, Mental Health Partners, and the city manager’s office to submit a grant on behalf of the department.

In mid-January, the Colorado Department of Human Services awarded Broomfield a grant that will pay for one peer support specialist, three clinicians and a part-time supervisor. Broomfield will contract all positions to Mental Health Partners.

“We are very excited,” Broomfield Police Chief Gary Creager said. “This was a big step taken by the government, no question.”

Broomfield staff will need to have the program running by April 1.

Public Health Director Jason Vahling was at the Feb. 13 City Council meeting where Ward 2 Councilwoman Sharon Tessier invited Creager to talk about the program.

Communities have issues with the stigma surrounding people seeking mental health treatment and services, so Broomfield joined with other departments in the Denver metro area to get a three-year grant for a stigma reduction campaign.

“We all know someone who’s been impacted by a mental health issue,” Vahling said. “We begin to look at what can we do to reduce those barriers to seek services.”

In Broomfield, suicide is the seventh leading cause of death, Vahling said, and the third leading cause of potential life-loss. The goal is to see mental health as a health and wellness issue.

“When someone breaks a leg, we don’t expect them to snap out of it or tell them they need to pull themselves up by the bootstraps,” Vahling said.

Some people were a little resistent to the similar Boulder EDGE program when it first began, possibly because it was something new. But after a while, they began to see the benefit, Maigan Oliver, director of acute and forensic services with Mental Health Partners, said at the meeting.

“They started seeing ‘I can do my job and let people qualified to do this work (do theirs),” she said. “(Officers)don’t have masters degrees in psychology. No one went into police work to be a social worker.”

Boulder’s co-responder program worked so well that after the grant ran out, that city funded it themselves.

Clinicians and peer support staff were embedded into the police department, and when an officer responds to a call with a mental health issue, a co-responder goes with them. Officers make sure the situation is safe, ensuring someone isn’t a danger to themselves or others, and the clinicians take over — helping that person receive services and following up to ensure they received help.

In Broomfield, that staff is expected to have office space at police headquarters and at the jail.

Ward 4 Councilman Kevin Kreeger applauded the department for this proactive move and for looking for the root cause of problems when dealing with the public.

Creager said details still are getting worked out, but they anticipate mental health officials to work out of the department from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and 10 a.m. to midnight Thursday through Saturday.

Ward 5 Councilwoman Guyleen Castriotta said this type of program is “a long time coming.” She asked how word would get out to caretakers who had stopped calling police because they were afraid to do so.

A campaign to notify the public will be coming, Creager said. They will also work with 17th Judicial District Attorney Dave Young and other court officials.

State law allows officers to place a mandatory hold, the same as a detox or mental health hold, on someone who gives them an indication they are dangerous to themselves or others.

These types of calls are occurring several times a day in Broomfield, Creager said, and taking into account all other municipalities, hospitals are filling up. Sometimes no bed is available by late afternoon.

Ambulances are transporting these residents and emergency rooms don’t have the kind of services they need.

“They can only do so much — try to stabilize them as much as they can and get them back on meds if they can,” Creager said.

Those patients are generally released within a few hours with referrals and other resources, but again with no guarantee those patients will seek care.

When an emergency room or ambulance bill comes in the mail, those residents become upset because they didn’t have a choice in going to the hospital.

“It happens again and again and again,” Creager said. “They keep taking up hospital beds and racking up bills.”

When police are called again, a lot of those same people resist, Creager said, and sometimes commit a crime to get arrested because they don’t want to go back to the hospital.

“At ours, and some other jails, we have mental health professionals who help stabilize them with meds and get them into therapy,” Creager said, “but we can only hold for so long.”

When they leave jail, they’re given referrals to services and 30 days of medication to keep them stable and hopefully able to get long-term help. Sometimes it works, Creager said, and sometimes it doesn’t.

The ultimate goal: reduce the number of people with mental illness going to jail or the hospital.

“They are not truly criminals,” he said. “They are people who are ill.”

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