Having police officers arrive alone at a behavioral health crisis scene is like having a pizza delivery person arrive without the pizza. That’s why implementing a co-responder program is so important: the behavioral health professionals are the pizza!
Without them, the encounter may take a wrong turn, resulting in an involuntary psychiatric admission or arrest. An effective co-response team can help close that gap between behavioral health and law enforcement, providing support and services beyond police response during mental health and substance use emergencies.
In this world of increasing mental health issues, co-responder programs represent the future of policing. As stated by Denver police chief Paul Pazen, when speaking of Denver’s STAR program (Support Team Assistance Response), “It’s the future of law enforcement, taking a public health view on public safety.
We want to meet people where they are and address those needs outside of the criminal justice system.” The success of the STAR program illustrates how implementing a co-responder program is changing the face of policing and crisis management. In this article, we will discuss the top 5 reasons why law enforcement succeeds with co-responder programs.
- Talented, progressive leadership
- Learning from others
- Effective collaboration with partner agencies
- Sufficient funding
- Efficient data collection
Talented, Progressive Leadership
If today’s world has taught us anything, it is that behavioral health crises are occurring at a faster pace than ever before. They are difficult to predict and require undivided attention and an immediate, appropriate response.
These events test leadership abilities in ways that differ from daily police work. A study by the FBI examined challenges faced by law enforcement in crisis situations and the characteristics of effective law enforcement crisis leadership. The research identified several important aspects of crisis leadership:
- Trained in command-level education specific to leadership in crisis situations
- Ability to effectively develop partnerships with other agencies
- Ability to identify best practices from after-action report processes.
There are numerous examples of co-responder leaders who exemplify talented, progressive leadership. Chris Richardson, director of the STAR program, has been there since the program’s inception. As stated by Richardson: “These programs can and do work…The intent of STAR is to send the right response, not a one-size fits all response.”
Thanks mainly to his effective leadership, the program has recently received additional money to expand through 2022. The extra money means that the program’s fleet of vans will increase from one to six, and seven more mental health clinicians, four more paramedics, and two more EMTs will be added to the team. Councilwoman Robin Kniech declared: “STAR is an example of a program that has worked for those it has had contact with…it is minimizing unnecessary arrests and unnecessary costs…”
Learning From Others When Implementing a Co-Responder Program
With departments implementing a co-responder program becomes more common across the country, there is a high demand for resources to assist new and established programs in learning from each other. The International Co-Responder Alliance (ICRA) is a non-profit organization that promotes diverse co-response models across Law Enforcement, Fire, and EMS.
They provide opportunities to exchange ideas and best practices as “…the missing link between fledgling programs and established ones to help smooth growing pains and learn next steps.” The organization provides several benefits, including:
- Helping new programs connect with established programs in areas of similar size, geography, culture, first responder disciplines, and types of partnerships to share successful approaches
- Sharing innovative solutions to help programs grow and overcome obstacles
- Providing educational opportunities such as crisis response, program development, and program evaluation
- Networking opportunities for all levels of professionals involved in co-responder programs
- Sponsoring the National Co-Responder Conference
Though co-responder programs vary in structure, there are numerous benefits to examining lessons learned from others. Before developing the STAR program, stakeholders traveled to Eugene, Oregon, to learn from the CAHOOTS program in that community. Denver’s program is fashioned after that program, which is a partnership between a private counseling clinic and the police department.
They respond to various behavioral health-related crises and rely on techniques focused on harm reduction. The city of Milwaukee studied both the Denver program and the Eugene program. It came away with lessons learned that they employed to develop and implement their program, The Milwaukee Police Department Diversion Task Force.
Effective Collaboration with Partner Agencies
The co-responder model has been around since the 1970s when police officers began pairing up with mental health professionals to respond to crisis calls. Today, the model has expanded to include fire and emergency medical professionals, substance use professionals, case managers, and peers. Ideally, community-based services are also included, such as outreach for homeless populations, transportation, and Veterans Affairs Offices, to name a few.
Effective collaboration with these partner agencies is vital to the success of these law enforcement co-responder programs. As the saying goes: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” and establishing flexible, binding partnerships with service providers is essential to bringing practical solutions to the community.
In establishing a successful co-response system, it is essential to bring together a group of people who can recognize the issues from their expertise. The ICRA can help communities to develop best practices to capitalize on the unique partnerships in their area to improve resource delivery and outcomes for people in crisis.
When a collaborative approach is developed from the program’s inception, this network of services can better address the needs of the individual in crisis, with a greater likelihood of success. The relationships between partner agencies can only be developed through trust, good communication, and shared goals.
Sufficient Funding is Critical to the Success of Co-Responder Programs
Having sufficient funding is critical to implementing a co-responder program and its success. While funding is available to all communities through Federal resources such as SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) and CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services), there is a clear need for consistent funding streams to develop and sustain the programs. Fortunately, Governors in several states have stepped up funding for mental health and substance use disorders.
In May of this year, Gov. JB Pritzkier of Illinois signed a bill creating co-responder pilot programs for Peoria, Springfield, East St. Louis, and Waukegan. Social workers and mental health professionals will join police officers on calls involving individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis. The state allocated $10 million to the program this year. Representative Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, who sponsored the bill, touted it as an example of “21st century policing.”
Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia also signed legislation in early May that authorizes teams of law enforcement officers and mental health professionals to answer emergency calls. Individual law enforcement agencies will be able to access $3 million annually.
The bill was a bipartisan effort sponsored by Senator Larry Walker III, R-Perry, who said: “This gives much more resources to local law enforcement.” Earlier this year, the General Assembly unanimously passed a bill funding five co-responder programs around the state.
Efficient Data Collection Brings Successful Results
Efficient data collection is crucial to developing a robust continuum of care for behavioral health crises. Though stakeholders might agree that improvements in care are necessary, challenges exist in identifying, gathering, and applying data to inform decision-making correctly. Community agencies have often worked as separate agencies with siloed systems.
Efficient data collection is vital to bring about successful results, which is why Julota’s award-winning software is a must. Julota, the first and only platform to connect the helper community, can bridge the gap between disparate software systems across healthcare and law enforcement platforms. Its interoperable cloud-based platform enables communities to implement critical initiatives like Co-Responders and Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) seamlessly while expanding the impact of limited community resources.
The availability of critical data at the scene can help ensure informed clinical decision-making by team members and allow them to route people in crisis to the most appropriate care setting. Julota’s secure platform enables safe and easy access to patients’ sensitive information, providing insight into frequent utilizers and allowing law enforcement and behavioral health professionals to coordinate efforts and share information more efficiently. Because Julota’s solution is hosted in the cloud, co-response team members can access the information from a phone, tablet, or laptop.
Today, you have only to look at a television or computer screen to realize that our country is in crisis. More than 50 million Americans are experiencing some type of mental illness, and more than 40 million suffer from a substance abuse disorder.
These numbers demonstrate the tremendous need for greater innovation to serve the behavioral health needs of people across the country. In this article, we have discussed five reasons why law enforcement and behavioral health specialists are succeeding with their co-responder programs. Their dedication to improving the face of crisis care provides great hope for the future.