A look at how Montrose’s co-response model is helping the community at-large

In Montrose, the co-response model involving local law enforcement and mental health professionals is having an impact.

“Throughout our country, communities have been seeing an increase in emergency situations involving persons with addiction or other mental health issues,” said Carol Howe during a webinar that included law enforcement and mental health professionals in Montrose County. “Questions surrounding who should respond and how they should respond are being asked.”

The co-response model — where local law enforcement and mental health professionals respond together — launched in 2018. It’s a partnership with the Center for Mental Health, which provides behavioral health professionals to respond with officers to police calls that involve a person experiencing a mental health crisis, and the Montrose County Sheriff’s Office.

Essentially, officers will arrive on scene, make sure it’s safe, and once secured, Katharyn Burke, a licensed professional counselor and co-responder for Montrose who’s also with the Center for Mental Health, will assess the individual and find the most appropriate action to help the person. It’s on a case-by-base basis, but Burke can help the individual secure a safety plan or, if not available, can offer a referral after the call and inform the person about what resources the Center for Mental Health can provide.

If the person isn’t cooperative, de-escalation tactics are used, but most calls, due to the cooperative nature and partnership, are safe. It’s an individualized response, with the goal of providing the least amount of intervention to meet their needs. For example: sometimes a person will be transported to Montrose Memorial Hospital if there’s a medical requirement.

People are also offered an opportunity to stay at the crisis walk-in center or stabilization unit at the Center for Mental Health, an option that’s often accepted and consistently available. If Burke isn’t available, the mobile response unit from the crisis walk-in center provides support. (The mobile response vehicle was purchased after a successful 2019 grant application for a Peace Officer Mental Health award from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.)

Burke’s training is extensive. She has a master’s in counseling and is a licensed professional counselor in Colorado, and has several years of experience in crisis work.

The goals of the program are to decrease police involvement when it’s a mental or behavioral health issue, involving best practices for resources and support for people in the community.

“The end goal is to make sure that our community is getting the services they need, and also lessen the time law enforcement is on scene dealing with the individual,” said Tim Cox, patrol commander with the Montrose Police Department and program supervisor.

That collaboration has helped local law enforcement respond to other calls for service when needed, and with Burke following up with the individuals, there’s been a “huge” reduction in crimes committed from people dealing with behavioral or mental issues, all while keeping them out of the judicial system, Cox said.

“It’s done wonders, it really has,” Ty Cox, lieutenant with the Montrose County Sheriff’s Office, said of the program. “We don’t deal with the same people as much and they’re getting the help they need. It’s been such a great program and we’re glad to be a part of it.”

Though centralized in Montrose, there’s also a team in Delta, offering support to people in Paonia, Hotchkiss and Cederadge. It’s all made possible by grant funding from the Office of Behavioral Health. For example, Montrose County Sheriff’s Office paid, through a grant, to send Burke to crisis intervention training, emphasizing the partnership between the entities. (The sheriff’s office also sends deputies to de-escalation training annually for the past five years, as well as crisis intervention training.)

The training is real-life like, offering a formidable sense of what it’s like to respond to a call that requires what’s learned in the training. It’s vital, Tim Cox said, as it reduces the use of force and pivots the focus to what the individuals need.

The amount of calls for service was impacted by the pandemic. At first, there was a reduction of calls. It picked up during the summer, and lately, there’s been a rise. It’s been similar for mental health professionals at the Center for Mental Health.

There’s also been less cross training due to the pandemic — Burke training the officers and vice-versa — but more funding in the future could help that training become more frequent.

At the moment, there’s enough funding for one position in Montrose, and though the budget is limited, there’s benefit to Burke going on call with different officers, said Laura Byard, licensed professional counselor and regional director from the Center for Mental Health, creating connections and partnerships.

It’s true, though, that additional funding could help Montrose County’s co-response model have structured teams (officers working with the same mental health professional), similar to what’s utilized on the Front Range, as well as grow the program.

It makes for a better response overall, Tim Cox said, and Montrose has been on that trend, seeing program growth since its inception.

“We would add more staff, so we have more availability throughout the week for co- response,” Byard said. “That would be our dream big goal.”

A challenge for co-responder programs across the state, Byard said, is determining how many calls require the co-response model. Calls involving alcohol, substance abuse can vary between the police department and sheriff’s office, which often see similar trends. It’s complicated, too, since a criminal charge can be charged to someone dealing with substance abuse and behavioral health, making it tough to track.

(Byard later added that Montrose County has not seen a similar trend to suicide rates experienced nationally during the pandemic.)

But, panelists agreed that the program has helped reduce the number of inmates struggling with mental health, given a big boost by Burke’s follow-up procedures. And, the partnerships are a big part of that, Tim Cox said.

“Although we have great resources, they’re limited, so we’ve learned to adopt and overcome and work together as a team, and it’s been excellent,” he said. “Our community and our partnerships are very valued in Montrose.”

The community can join the effort by offering support to local agencies that provide services to certain sectors of the community, including people experiencing homelessness.

“It doesn’t matter what anybody’s status is,” Tim Cox said. “If somebody needs help, this team here is going to get them the help they need.”

The Center for Mental Health support line is 970-252-6220. The community is encouraged to call with questions or concerns.

To view the webinar, visit youtube.com/watch?v=RGk2wg2rY1Q.

Montrose Daily Press
Josue Perez is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press
Montrose Daily Press | March 25, 2020
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