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THE PROBLEM

With too few services, mental health crises are increasingly thrust upon first responders, who are stuck with limited options.

Too often, experts say, people are taken to frantic emergency rooms, jailed or left to fend for themselves while officers handle other emergencies.

A BETTER APPROACH

Mental health professionals and emergency responders say they need more resources to expand promising new strategies.

•Crisis communications for officers

Training line-level officers to recognize mental illness and employ strategies to “de-escalate.”

Crisis training is mandatory for El Paso County sheriff’s deputies but optional for Colorado Springs police.

“As people become emotional, they become less rational,” Colorado Springs police Sgt. Eric Frederic said. “We acknowledge the emotions. We use a lot of active-listening skills to build rapport and trust. We’re there to help them solve problems, too.”

•Specialized units

Co-responder models combine police with trained therapists to better manage situations that could otherwise explode into violence or suicide.

El Paso County has four such teams, but they offer limited hours and face demands that lead them to turn away people in need.

•Stabilization or Respite Center

AspenPointe’s 24-hour crisis centers offer round-the-clock counseling and assessments, giving police a place to take those who aren’t appropriate for the ER or jail.

Two such centers operate in Colorado Springs, but their five-year grant is due to sunset in June.

SIGNS OF HOPE

No single community has a lock on how best to serve those left stranded by mental illness.  But across the country, voters are passing ambitious funding measures in hopes of preventing suicides, keeping the vulnerable out of jail and ensuring continuing care.

Last year, Larimer County was among at least nine counties in the state that passed tax increases – in this case, to build a $25 million mental health and drug detoxification center.

“It’s going to save lives,” said Lou Barela, who led the campaign. “Larimer County is going to be one of the leading counties in Colorado in mental health.”

Reporter

I cover legal affairs for The Gazette, with an emphasis on the criminal courts. Tips to lance.benzel@gazette.com

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