FCPS has employed a mental health worker for nearly two years now, but now there is a growing team of officers and health workers patrolling the streets in Northern Colorado.
People experiencing a mental health crisis in Fort Collins are now being served by both Fort Collins Police Services as well as mental health experts from UCHealth. The Mental Health Response Team by FCPS is a new unit that has been operating since last month.
Fort Collins Police Chief Jeff Swaboda told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas his officers are often asked to respond to calls which they are not equipped to deal with. Though FCPS has more officers trained for mental health calls than the national average, Swaboda said this new team takes that service up a significant amount.
“Let’s stop putting our officers in no-win situations,” Swaboda said. “The community needs help. Many times, they don’t need jail.”
Many officers within the department applied to be on the MHRT, however only a select few were chosen at this time. Officer Chris Bland, one of the selected within the department, said he was proud to be part of a new movement.
“We need to reimagine how we are responding to calls,” Bland said. “We are underprepared as a profession, but we are working to get better.”
When someone calls and asks for the team, or when someone within the department feels their services could be used, members of the MHRT will respond. Sometimes that involves both officers and UCHealth professionals, other times it only involves one of the two.
“Not every call is going to be a police matter, but it falls to us because there is nobody else to take it,” Bland said. “A lot of times there is not a crime going on that I need to arrest someone for. They just need help.”
“If we can intervene earlier, we can people out of the hospital or facilities,” said Julie Bower, Community Paramedic for UCHealth and the MHRT.
Bower used to be a paramedic in an ambulance. She said she spent nearly two decades working against a clock to make sure patients were given immediate care.
Now, as a member of the MHRT, she is able to have drawn out and meaningful conversations with those she is assisting.
“Getting them to just calm down a little bit and talk really changes the scene,” Bower said.
Fort Collins police said they were dispatched to roughly 400 mental health related calls per month in 2020. Now, with a dedicated taskforce, they plan to send the MHRT to a majority of those calls.
Not only do the officers in the department benefit from the assistance, but so do the other responding agencies. Prior to the MHRT, many calls required paramedics and firefighters to respond. Overloading a person in need with such a large response often times made the situations more difficult to navigate. Now, with a targeted and smaller team, they hope de-escalation can lead to more people getting the assistance they need rather than being taken to either jail or the ER.
“It is not about just a ticket book, handcuffs and a handgun. It is about having the proper training and resources,” Swaboda said.
FCPS plans to grow the team as time and finances allow.