How to Implement a Co-Responder Pilot Program

Co-responder pilot programs have emerged as a successful approach to addressing community mental health crises. These programs involve collaboration between law enforcement agencies and mental health professionals, such as social workers or clinicians.

EMS and Fire have been brought in for a holistic co-responder program in many other communities. By combining the expertise of both fields, co-responder programs aim to provide a more holistic and compassionate response to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.

Understanding the need for community mental health services

The need for community mental health services has become increasingly evident in recent years. Mental health challenges are prevalent, and individuals experiencing a crisis often come into contact with law enforcement.

Traditional law enforcement responses may not be equipped to handle these situations effectively, leading to potential escalation and trauma. Co-responder programs recognize the importance of diverting individuals to appropriate mental health services rather than relying solely on law enforcement intervention.

Community mental health services play a crucial role in supporting individuals with mental health issues. These services encompass a range of supports, including therapy, counseling, medication management, and crisis intervention. By implementing a co-responder pilot program, communities can bridge the gap between mental health services and law enforcement, ensuring that individuals in crisis receive the appropriate care and support they need.

The role of co-responders in crisis response

Co-responders, typically mental health professionals, are integral to the co-responder pilot program model. Their role is to accompany law enforcement officers on calls involving individuals in a mental health crisis. By providing specialized expertise, co-responders can de-escalate situations, assess individuals’ mental health needs, and connect them to appropriate resources.

In crisis response situations, co-responders bring a unique skill set that complements the law enforcement perspective. They have a deep understanding of mental health disorders, crisis intervention techniques, and community resources. Co-responders can provide immediate support, reduce the risk of harm, and help individuals navigate the mental health system effectively.

Benefits of implementing a co-responder pilot program

Implementing a co-responder pilot program offers numerous benefits to individuals in crisis and the community. First, it enhances the quality of response to mental health crises, ensuring that individuals receive appropriate care and support. Second, co-responders can mitigate the potential for escalation and trauma, leading to better outcomes for those in crisis.

Secondly, co-responder programs reduce the strain on law enforcement resources. By diverting appropriate calls to co-responders, police officers can focus on their core duties, such as maintaining public safety. This collaborative approach fosters a more positive relationship between law enforcement and the community, as individuals in crisis are met with empathy and understanding.

Furthermore, co-responder programs contribute to reducing the rate of arrests and incarceration for individuals with mental health issues. By connecting individuals to community mental health services, co-responders help prevent unnecessary involvement with the criminal justice system and promote long-term recovery.

Critical components of a successful co-responder program

To implement a successful co-responder program, several critical components should be considered. Firstly, strong collaboration and partnership between law enforcement agencies and mental health service providers are essential. This collaboration should involve regular communication, joint training, and shared protocols to ensure effective coordination.

Secondly, adequate funding and resources are crucial for sustaining a co-responder program. Mental health professionals need appropriate training, supervision, and ongoing support to fulfill their role effectively. Additionally, sufficient resources for crisis intervention services, such as mobile crisis teams and crisis stabilization centers, are necessary to provide comprehensive care.

Another critical component is data collection and evaluation. Co-responder programs should have mechanisms to track outcomes, assess program effectiveness, and identify areas for improvement. This data-driven approach allows for evidence-based decision-making and continuous program refinement.

The success of co-responder programs

There are many examples of successful co-responder programs throughout the country. One tool that many programs use is Julota. The Julota program is a comprehensive software platform that facilitates communication and information sharing between law enforcement and mental health professionals. This tool streamlines the referral process, tracks individual progress, and ensures continuity of care.

  • Douglas County, Colorado: Douglas County hosts a successful co-responder program initiated in 2017, featuring Community Response and Youth Community Response Teams. These teams, comprising mental health professionals and law enforcement officers, employ a cloud-based platform for seamless communication and service delivery. By prioritizing mental health interventions over ER visits and jail admissions, the program saved the community an estimated $4.9 million between 2017 and 2019, with only 4% of encounters requiring emergency department transport.
  • Johnson County, Kansas: With a population exceeding 600,000, Johnson County’s co-responder program, operational for eleven years, demonstrates substantial impact. The program offers diverse response options tailored to individuals’ needs by pairing mental health professionals with law enforcement. The growth trajectory is evident, with co-responders attending over 2,000 calls in 2021. Additionally, post-crisis follow-ups foster sustained community support and stability.
  • Omaha, Nebraska: In response to a tragic incident in 2017, Omaha implemented a Behavioral Health and Wellness team composed of mental health professionals collaborating with law enforcement. This initiative, averaging 400 monthly calls, emphasizes ongoing support beyond crisis intervention, reducing emergency service reliance. Enhanced officer training and community awareness signify transformative progress, earning recognition from the Omaha Police Foundation.
  • Gainesville, Florida: Established in mid-2018, Gainesville’s co-responder program, a collaboration between Meridian Behavioral Health and the local police, has diverted 89% of individuals from arrest, yielding substantial savings. Addressing mental health and substance abuse crises, the program aligns with community resources to ensure comprehensive care and reduce emergency service dependency, especially among frequent users.
  • Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Pioneering the co-responder model since 1973, Chapel Hill’s Crisis Unit integrates mental health professionals and law enforcement seamlessly. Incorporating peer support specialists, the program offers multifaceted crisis interventions and community outreach. With a high volume of responses monthly, the partnership showcases the efficacy of interdisciplinary collaboration in crisis management and community well-being.

Steps to implement a co-responder pilot program in your police department

If you’re considering implementing a co-responder pilot program in your police department, here are some critical steps to guide you:

  • Assess community needs: Identify your community’s specific mental health challenges and evaluate the demand for a co-responder program. Engage with community stakeholders and mental health service providers to comprehensively understand the existing resources and gaps.
  • Build partnerships: Establish partnerships with local mental health service providers, including community mental health centers, crisis hotlines, and hospitals. Collaborate with these organizations to develop shared protocols, referral processes, and training opportunities.
  • Secure funding: Seek funding from various sources, such as government grants, private foundations, or community donations. Adequate funding is essential to support the recruitment, training, and ongoing operation of co-responders.
  • Develop training programs: Design comprehensive training programs for co-responders and law enforcement officers. Training should cover crisis intervention techniques, de-escalation strategies, mental health awareness, and cultural competence.
  • Establish data collection and evaluation systems: Implement systems to collect data on program outcomes, including response times, diversion rates, and individual progress. Regularly evaluate the program’s effectiveness and adjust based on the collected data.
  • Ensure ongoing support: Provide ongoing support and supervision for co-responders to ensure their well-being and professional development. Mental health professionals may require clinical supervision and access to consultation services.

Training and resources for co-responders

Co-responders play a critical role in crisis response, and providing them with appropriate training and resources is essential. Training programs should focus on crisis intervention techniques, de-escalation strategies, trauma-informed care, and mental health awareness. Co-responders should also receive training on legal and ethical considerations related to their role.

Additionally, co-responders should have access to ongoing support and resources. These may include clinical supervision, peer support groups, and continuing education opportunities. Regular debriefings and reflective practice sessions can help co-responders process challenging situations and enhance their professional growth. The ICRA is a great resource for anything co-responders need regarding training and resources.

Evaluating the effectiveness of your co-responder program

Continuous evaluation is essential to ensure the effectiveness of your co-responder program. By regularly assessing the program’s outcomes and impact, you can identify areas for improvement and make necessary adjustments. Here are some key evaluation measures to consider:

  • Response times: Measure the time it takes for co-responders to arrive at the scene of a crisis. Aim for prompt response to minimize potential risks and ensure timely support.
  • Diversion rates: Track the number of individuals diverted from arrest or unnecessary involvement with the criminal justice system. Evaluate the program’s effectiveness in connecting individuals to appropriate mental health services.
  • Participant satisfaction: Collect feedback from individuals who have interacted with co-responders. Assess their satisfaction with the services received and their perception of the program’s impact.
  • Collaboration and communication: Evaluate the level of collaboration and communication between law enforcement and mental health professionals. Measure the effectiveness of shared protocols, information exchange, and joint decision-making.

The future of co-responder programs in community mental health

Co-responder pilot programs have demonstrated their value in addressing mental health crises effectively. By combining the expertise of law enforcement and mental health professionals, these programs offer a compassionate and holistic response to individuals in crisis. The benefits of implementing a co-responder program extend beyond immediate crisis intervention, contributing to improved community well-being and reduced reliance on the criminal justice system.

As communities recognize the importance of community mental health services, the demand for co-responder programs is likely to increase. However, a critical thing for this melding is to have a way to communicate and share information between branches of the program. A fantastic tool to help with this need is Julota’s co-responder platform. By implementing the steps outlined in this article and leveraging resources like Julota, communities can create a more compassionate and effective response to mental health crises, ultimately leading to better outcomes for individuals in need.