Across the country, cities and counties are adopting the promising co-responder model to improve their interaction with people experiencing behavioral health crises. Although the models vary in practice, they generally involve law enforcement and clinicians working together to respond to calls involving mental health and substance use crises.
Communities use the model to develop a crisis continuum of care that recognizes that many situations are more appropriately addressed by behavioral health professionals and crisis specialists than law enforcement. Successful programs show a reduction in the use of emergency departments and jails and promote more appropriate access to treatment and services.
Individuals in crisis report that they feel less threatened and stigmatized when interacting with co-response teams than with law enforcement alone. In addition, first responders are documenting more efficient use of their time as teams take over quickly at the scene, allowing officers to resume their regular duties promptly.
Recent research by organizations such as the International Association of the Chiefs of Police and the Bureau of Justice Assistance documents the promising effects of the Co-Responder model in the following areas:
- Enhancement of crisis de-escalation
- Increased connection to services
- Reduced pressure on the criminal justice system
- Harnessing of data to prove successful outcomes
A closer look at each area can help us see how successful Co-Responder programs make the most of their program.
Crisis De-Escalation Reduces Officer Use of Force and Increases Officer and Civilian Safety
The term de-escalation refers to moving from a state of high tension to a state of reduced tension. Specifically, it applies psychology to help a highly agitated person bring their emotions under control.
De-escalation skills training is being implemented throughout the country to prepare police officers to respond safely and effectively to people in crisis. CIT(Crisis Intervention Team) programs and CIT training have had great success across the country in the police departments that have implemented them. The training allows them to communicate effectively and initiate specific actions to de-escalate a crisis situation.
These techniques are an effective intervention tool that helps crisis de-escalation and reduces officer use of force, increasing officer and civilian safety. In addition, when officers work as part of a Co-Responder team alongside a behavioral health specialist, their combined expertise provides quicker de-escalation. It also helps to link individuals to appropriate treatment and services.
Effective cross-training between the law enforcement and behavioral health disciplines establishes greater understanding and can even shift agency culture.
Co-Responders Facilitate Increased Connection to Services
Enhancing individuals’ access to community services is a vital element of Co-Responder programs. In communities across the nation, co-responders successfully facilitate increased connections to services and diversion from the criminal justice system.
Colorado’s Co-Responder Program, administered by the Colorado Department of Human Services Offices of Behavioral Health (OBH), is showing positive outcomes in the following areas:
- Greater success in diverting people from arrests, mental health holds, and emergency rooms
- Increased connections to services
- Improved interactions between law enforcement and community members
According to a report conducted by the Colorado Health Institute, the Colorado programs are especially effective in connections to services. For example, among individuals who met with the co-responder teams three times or more, 68.8 percent were successfully enrolled in behavioral health services.
In discussing their county’s Co-Responder program, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle has stated: “This is an outstanding example of how intervening with the appropriate resources at a time of need can de-escalate tense situations, provide compassionate care, get people the help they need, and avoid the use of the jail or emergency room in many, many cases. We are proud to be part of this innovation in mental health crisis services.”
Successful Co-Responder Programs Help to Reduce Pressure on the Criminal Justice System
As cities and counties increase their use of co-responder models, they recognize more and more that crisis calls are often related to unmet treatment needs rather than major crimes or violence. These situations cannot be solved by arrest but are best addressed by behavioral health professionals.
Supporters of the co-responder model agree that successful Co-Responder programs help to reduce pressure on the criminal justice system by diverting people away from arrests and police detention. In addition, there is some evidence that the programs also provide better management of officers’ time as they can return more quickly to other duties.
Ideally, the increase in connections to services and diversion from arrests and detentions frequently leads to a reduction of repeat behavioral health-related encounters with police.
Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Crisis Outreach and Support Team (COAST), has shown notable success in this area. Crisis specialists work in conjunction with the Albuquerque Police Department in de-escalating crisis situations and connecting individuals to services, and providing follow-up support. Yet, in just two years, statistics show that 40% of crisis calls have had no action taken under the COAST program, while 33% resulted in voluntary mental health transport, and only 3% resulted in enforcement action. These impressive numbers are an excellent indicator of how this co-responder program makes the most of its program.
Effective Harnessing of Data from Co-Responder Programs Proves Successful Outcomes
It’s no secret – Co-Responder program stakeholders need proven outcomes to ensure continued support and funding. That means that an appropriate technology solution must be in place to harness data from the Co-Responder program effectively. Choosing the right software is crucial to the program’s success and requires forethought and planning. Several vital questions should be asked when approaching technology decision-making. They include:
- Is the software specifically designed for law enforcement/behavioral health needs?
- Will the data be accessible from one secure location for all agencies?
- Does the software guarantee security and HIPAA, CFR-42, and CJIS compliance?
- Does the software provide dynamic data analysis to show proven outcomes?
Fortunately, Julota’s robust software solution meets all the criteria mentioned. It is used by municipalities, counties, and states across the U.S. and is the first and only platform built to connect the helper community. In addition, Julota automates collaboration between emergency responders, clinical practitioners, and caseworkers, making it accessible from one secure location.
The complexity of offering behavioral health services to an already vulnerable population requires a safe, secure solution. Government protocols protect private health information, and Julota’s platform ensures that this sensitive information is stored securely.
That includes compliance with the requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), 42 CFR Part 2 (to protect substance use treatment records), and CJIS (Criminal Justice Information System.
The effective harnessing of data from Co-Responder programs is crucial to proving successful outcomes. In addition, determining which program interventions have been most effective or where the greatest needs are can assist stakeholders in planning for the future.
Julota will customize your data fields and reports to meet the individual needs of your organizations and community, significantly easing the process of outcome reporting. Having the ability to show successful program outcomes can provide valuable information in applying for funding and seeking budgetary increases and reports to lawmakers.
Co-Responder programs like PACT (Pitkin Area Co-Responder Teams) in Pitkin County, Colorado, successfully employ Julota’s cloud-based platform to coordinate services in three law jurisdictions. Jess Beaulieu, PACT Program Manager & Mental Health Program Administrator, has said of their experience: “Julota has provided a central platform by which to collect vital data and statistics about the efficacy of our program. Julota is highly customizable, so we were able to tailor workflows to the specific needs of our partners…”
The most effective way to determine the success of a Co-Responder program is through ongoing data collection and analysis. Data can be used by stakeholders to better understand a holistic view of the short and long-term impacts of the program.
The data collected can offer vital information such as how frequently individuals are connected to services, which areas have the greatest need for services and the number of diversions from the criminal justice system. Frequent users of services can be identified as well as critical characteristics of users such as race, ethnicity, gender, and more. Data can be utilized to bolster funding opportunities and ensure continued community support.
Jurisdictions across the country are reimagining public safety and focusing on expanding crisis response efforts by implementing Co-Responder programs. Though varied in description and delivery, each follows a police-based intervention that partners trained law enforcement and behavioral health professionals responding to behavioral health crises.Available research indicates that successful Co-Responder programs that make the most of their programs show enhanced de-escalation of crises, increased connections to services, and reduced pressure on the criminal justice system. The second National Co-Responder Conference, held in Olathe, Kansas, highlighted the role of mental health co-responders in police departments. Jessica Murphy, leader of the Johnson County Kansas Co-Responder Team, stated: “Mental health numbers are increasing…We’re breaking down stigma and silos for people to get the help that they need…They want to resolve the crisis and really try to keep those with mental illness out of jail or the emergency rooms by providing the service right there on the scene.”