Over half of Colorado counties lack mental health co-responding units

CLEAR CREEK COUNTY — In response to the deadly Clear Creek County shootings in June, many advocates are calling for police to prioritize de-escalation when responding to mental health crises.

In June, 22-year-old Christian Glass was shot dead by a Clear Creek County sheriff’s deputy after he called 911 when his SUV got stuck on a country road. During the 911 call, Glass appears to be having a mental crisis.

Last week, his attorneys released the body camera footage and 911 call that led to his final moments. Video shows police smashing his car window and shooting at him. The sheriff’s office says Glass became argumentative and even attempted to stab an officer. However, the video shows that Glass never got out of his car and told police how scared he was.

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For a crisis like this, 23 counties across Colorado participate in a co-response program that pairs a psychologist with a deputy to de-escalate situations. However, the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Office is not part of any co-response program.

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, Colorado Springs Police Department, and Fountain Police Department all have co-response teams to help respond to mental health emergencies. The Behavioral Health Connect Unit (BHCON) brings together the Sheriff’s Office and the Fountain Police.

In August, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Dispatch received 376 mental health-related calls. Of these, BHCON helped 177 people and treated more than half of them on site.

Andrea Wood, the behavioral health manager at UCHealth, oversees the BHCON unit. She said MPs sometimes start mirroring clinicians’ skills after working with them.

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“I’m going to watch our MPs and our police officers stand up and actually do a behavioral health assessment on a suicide scale and do an amazing job of de-escalating patients. So the best thing is to see them get together,” she said.

Funding for the program came from the Colorado Behavioral Health Administration, which Wood said was available to all counties through a grant application. However, she said some agencies may have had trouble finding clinicians to fill the roles, which may have deterred her from seeking funding.

“Sometimes it’s really, really difficult to find clinicians and teams that can all work together and so there are a lot of barriers that can come up depending on the rural community and their location and the services they can get,” Wood said .

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KOAA reached out to the Clear Creek Sheriff’s Office to ask if they have plans to become part of a co-response program. They didn’t answer.

If you are calling 911 about a mental health emergency, you can ask the BHCON unit to assist with the situation or ask a crisis intervention-trained deputy to respond if available.

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