The next time a Fort Collins police officer is called to help someone experiencing a mental health crisis, his backup might not carry a badge or a gun.
Fort Collins Police Services and SummitStone Health Partners this month will begin pairing officers trained in community policing with experts trained in de-escalating mental health crises. The end goal of the partnership: Connecting people in crisis with the services they need instead of connecting them with the jail and criminal justice system.
Co-responder partnerships aren't new in Colorado. The Loveland Police Department and SummitStone have had a program in place for a couple years, and various Denver-area police departments and health providers also partner. Experts, like SummitStone CEO Michael Allen, say the programs lead to reduced use of officer force as trained behavioral health experts help diffuse situations that might otherwise end in an arrest.
As Allen put it, co-responders use "verbal judo" to diffuse situations that might otherwise end in an officer's use of actual judo. Our local police officers are among the best of us in understanding and responding to the human condition, but the extra layer of support can be a boon for positive outcomes in crisis situations.
At a time when assaults on officers are up, and as Larimer County leaders continue with how best to address a rising tide of mental health and substance abuse issues, that sounds like a win-win to us.
That's why, as SummitStone works to expand its co-responder programs, the Coloradoan Editorial Board applauds Loveland and Fort Collins police leadership for their vision and encourages other area law-enforcement agencies to follow suit.
SummitStone and the Larimer County Sheriff's Office are in talks about the program, and we hope those discussions will lead to another partnership that strengthens our community safety net for those in crisis.