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Larimer County law agencies seek grant to pair more counselors with officers

Funds will expand program to have counselors work with officers in Larimer County, Loveland, Fort Collins

By Pamela Johnson – Reporter-Herald Staff Writer

Local law enforcement agencies are hoping for a $362,000 grant to multiply the number of certified counselors available to respond to crisis calls with officers.

Larimer County is leading the grant application to hire co-responders, the name for the counselor who responds alongside officers, for the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office, Fort Collins Police Services and Loveland Police Department.

The county commissioners approved the application and a letter of support on Tuesday for the grant from the Colorado Department of Human Services.

“This would relieve some of the pressure on the criminal justice system, but more importantly, it gets the individual into the proper treatment program,” said Commissioner Steve Johnson, explaining that, in the long run, it will save money and boost public health.

Larimer County Police Vehicles

Photo Credit: Alex Smith

“I think it is going to pay off very good benefits for all of Larimer County.”

The idea is to have a trained and certified counselor available when law enforcement officers are called to situations involving mental health and substance abuse. This counselor can help connect the individuals involved with services to treat the root of the issue not just send them to jail.

The person may or may not be arrested and face charges, but either way, the counselor can help connect them with needed help and follow up to ensure they are receiving treatment before they become repeat offenders.

“Folks that have mental health crises are showing up at the ER over and over again, and at the jail over and over again,” said Laurie Stolen, the county’s behavioral health project director. “They aren’t getting the services they need. They’re going to the wrong places.”

This program, along with other efforts, is one piece of helping people with behavioral health issues connect with the help they need.

“Through the work of treatment and court teams and other dedicated professionals, we have seen the benefits of offenders being connected to services that support their long-term recovery and pro-social behavior,” the letter, signed by Lew Gaiter, chairman of the board, states.

“However, we are eager to see this link between needs and services occur pre-arrest and pre-hospitalization as much as possible. The co-responder model presents and opportune juncture for this timely and efficient intervention.”

The Loveland Police Department is the only agency within the county that currently has a co-responder, through a partnership with SummitStone Health Partners. The program launched last summer, but was part-time until about March of this year when a counselor was assigned full-time.

Fort Collins police also have created a co-responder position, through a partnership with SummitStone and UC Health, but is still in the process of filling the position, and Larimer County has asked the commissioners to include a such a position in the 2018 budget, which would allow the Sheriff’s Office to hire a co-responder for next year.