Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office mental health program making progress

Ellis Arnold

When a man from a rural part of Arapahoe County called 911 for help during a mental health crisis, he asked the sheriff’s deputy to take him to a facility that could treat its state.

But when the deputy searched the man, he found the man had brass knuckles – a prohibited weapon – and the man was ticketed.

The man, who has a wife and children and who served in the army, was facing a prison sentence. But staff from the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office contacted the correct officials and referred the man to mental health services, and his criminal charge was ultimately dismissed.

“That was a really good story we had recently,” said Julie Jacobs, manager of the sheriff’s office’s behavioral health intervention program. Jacobs said the story was about an eastern Arapahoe County man who spent about three months back and forth with the justice system earlier this year.

Deputies can’t ignore evidence of a crime, Jacobs said, but mental health staff at the sheriff’s office are trying to focus on getting help for those in mental health crisis instead. to put them on the road to prison.

This staff includes a team of mental health “correspondents” who respond to 911 calls alongside deputies to handle mental health-related situations with the sensitivity they sometimes require. The sheriff’s office launched its pen pal program in October 2019, and it has made thousands of contacts since then, according to the sheriff’s office.

According to Ginger Delgado, spokesperson for the sheriff’s office, correspondents will never ask deputies not to charge an individual with a crime when doing so is against state policy or law. But not all crimes are “mandatory arrest” situations, Delgado said in a statement.

A person can be “turned away” from jail if a deputy determines they can be released with a court summons or pending charges, according to Delgado.

“If we can legally, ethically and morally keep them in the community to get the (mental health) services, that’s what we want to do,” said Jacobs, who oversees the correspondent program.

Coresponders are clinicians who have their own unmarked vehicles with a bulkhead in the back so they can transport people to ERs, walk-in crisis centers or other treatment facilities – or they can insure transportation to other locations as required by the sheriff. Office.

This approach allows the team to avoid using ambulances, which would require billing families, Jacobs said. Also, pen pals can handle situations without handcuffing people.

“We have also been called to some schools before. What could be better for a 15 (or) 16 year old kid? Being handcuffed and put in a police vehicle? Jacobs said, adding, “We don’t make them feel like they did anything wrong.”

Since early October 2019, the co-responder program has had nearly 4,200 contacts, according to the sheriff’s office.

In 2021, just over 41% of all service calls attended by a caller were not deemed to be mental health-related when the call was initially made to 911 or a non-emergency line, according to the Delgado statement.

Examples of calls not related to mental health may include verbal disturbances, physical disturbances and intrusions, according to the office.

Correspondents can respond to any type of call, except for inquiries into deaths or other violent crimes where an arrest is mandatory and a “significant criminal investigation” is required, according to the Delgado statement.

According to the office, the types of crimes for which the correspondent team is not authorized to “hijack” people include charges of domestic violence and other violent crimes.

But even if an arrest is needed, the caller can still provide information — such as whether the person is at risk of suicide or needs medication — to county jail medical staff, according to Jacobs.

People in contact with the program who are not arrested can be treated on the spot if they do not ask to be taken to a mental health treatment center for a voluntary assessment – or if they do not meet the criteria for what one calls it an “M1 hold,” according to the bureau.

Under Colorado law, when a person appears to pose an imminent danger to others or to themselves due to a mental health disorder, the person may be taken into custody and placed in a treatment facility. mental health center for treatment and assessment for up to 72 hours. .

Whether that “M1” or sanity takes 72 hours depends on the doctor in charge — it could take five hours, Jacobs said, depending on the situation.

In 2021, the sheriff’s office drafted about 500 mental health referrals, according to Jacobs. In 2020, the number was about the same.

But the pace at which the office cleared sanity in those years was different. In 2020, the total number of mental health contacts that correspondents were involved with was 1,645. And that’s when the team was operating with no more than three correspondents, Jacobs said.

In 2021, the number of contacts was much higher: approximately 2,400 mental health contacts. So proportionally, the office wrote fewer deductions in 2021 than the year before, a change that goes toward one of the goals of the correspondent program, Jacobs said.

“We want to make sure we are providing the most appropriate level of care. An emergency room in a hospital “may not be the best, Jacobs said. The program tries to get people to “designated mental health facilities” if possible, and it may be beneficial if the program could get people to go to a walk-in centre, she added.

Of the nearly 4,200 calls since the program began, only 88 people were arrested at the scene for warrants and new charges, according to the office.

But it’s important to note that the implementation of the co-responder program came shortly before the coronavirus pandemic hit Colorado, a change that required the county to change requirements for people placed in jail, as well as court modification procedures, according to Delgado’s statement.

“Many charges that a person – mentally ill or not – would generally be arrested and detained prior to COVID-19 have been released on summons,” Delgado said in a statement. The most recent change to the prison acceptance policy was on March 11 this year.

As of that date, the sheriff’s office lowered the criteria for jail time so that crimes resulting in obligations of $1,000 and more will place a suspect in jail, according to Carl Anderson, administrative manager of the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office. . Allowing more suspects to be jailed is a reaction to the spread of COVID and COVID-related hospitalizations which recently declined at the time, according to Anderson.

(In late April, Colorado Community Media asked the sheriff’s office how many of the roughly 4,200 calls involving a pen pal resulted in someone writing a ticket for an alleged violation of the law. The office’s records unit said that she was still working on the issue as of May 2.)

When a caller is unavailable to answer a call, assistants can fill out a referral form for mental health staff to follow up with the person who needed help later.

At the start of the co-responder program, the sheriff’s office contracted with AllHealth Network and was assigned a part-time clinician, or co-responder, until a contract was signed in January 2020.

AllHealth Network is a nonprofit mental health organization that provides counselling, psychiatry, crisis services, addiction treatment and other services and has offices in Littleton and elsewhere in the southern metro area from Denver.

The program had three correspondents and a case manager from then on, Jacobs said.

In January 2021, AllHealth Network and the Sheriff’s Office decided not to resign from a contract, and with the support of Centennial City Council and Arapahoe County Commissioners, the Sheriff’s Office introduced the program “in internal,” according to the sheriff’s office.

Three of the current correspondents are former AllHealth employees who chose to come to work for the program “in-house” — meaning they are now employed by the sheriff’s office — and the sheriff’s office has hired its two other current correspondents in October through an external job posting, Jacobs said.

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