On July 1, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office launched a co-responder patrol unit program called the Behavioral Health Connect Unit, which pairs an EPCSO deputy with a licensed behavioral health clinician from UCHealth’s Memorial Hospital. The BHCON unit is a five-year pilot program, funded by a grant from the Colorado Department of Human Services.|
Chief Clif Northam with the EPCSO said the motivation behind the program is to save EPCSO patrol deputies time and to create a more efficient way to handle mental health calls. “Usually, each call requires two deputies who then have to take the person to the emergency room for a mental health evaluation,” Northam said.
“Instead of taking two deputies off the road, this program has a deputy and a mental health clinician paired together, and sometimes we do not even have to go to the ER because the clinician can provide counseling on site or even take them to a walk-in clinic.”
Northam said the BHCON unit not only helps save the deputies’ time on the streets, but it also saves space in the EPC jail. “Before, we did not know what to do with these folks,” he said. “By default, if they were not going to a mental health facility, they went to jail. Now, we can link them with resources so they can get help on their own and allow them to stay at home or take them to a walk-in clinic rather than the jail.”
The BHCON unit is available Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., but Northam said he already sees the need for two more units because of the volume and timing of mental health-related calls. However, most of the patrol deputies have been trained in crisis intervention and mental health/first aid so they have a good idea of how to approach mental health situations, he said.
“The drawback to not having the BHCON unit always available is that we do not have the time or the resources to follow up on the mental health-related calls and make sure they get hooked up with the right resources,” Northam said.
The BHCON unit program will be evaluated, and Northam said as long as the statistics indicate progress in helping to decrease ER visits and stays, reducing the number of people going to jail for mental health-related issues and decreasing the overall manpower it takes to deal with those types of calls, the program is a success.
“If, after the five years are up, we can show the program is a success, we can get the grant extended,” Northam said. There is even a chance a second BHCON unit could be created before the five-year mark using the department’s own resources, if it has proven to be as effective as it has so far, he said. Since July 1, Northam said the team has been on more than 100 calls (excluding September).
As part of the same grant for the BHCON unit, the EPCSO received funding to start a year-long “Man Therapy” media campaign aimed at de-stigmatizing mental health issues in men, Northam said.
According to Man Therapy’s website, the program is the result of a 2007 partnership between Cactus, an advertising agency in Denver, the Office of Suicide Prevention at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Carson J Spencer Foundation, a nonprofit suicide prevention organization in Colorado. The program launched in 2012 and has drawn national and international attention for its “creative use of media in health literacy,” the website states.
“Men ages 25 to 45 have been found to be the highest number of suicides over the last few years,” he said. “Men do not like asking for help. This campaign is a humorous way to talk about a serious subject. We want to get men laughing and talking about their feelings, like being suicidal or struggling with depression.”
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On Sept.18, the Board of Education for Peyton School District 23 Jt in Peyton, Colorado, unanimously approved a resolution to allow certain employees to be designated as security officers and authorized to carry firearms on school property, as permitted by law. The decision followed a series of town hall meetings to discuss the proposal.|
According to the September issue of “The New Falcon Herald,” the proposal for the armed security team was prompted by three considerations: school shootings are a reality; schools are soft targets, meaning they are relatively unprotected or vulnerable; and no school is immune to this type of violence.
Tim Kistler, Peyton School District superintendent, said the BOE wanted to make sure the community knows this is just the beginning of revisiting building security in general; saying yes to arming staff members is just a start.
According to the resolution: “The Board of Education of the District has determined that it is in the best interest of the District and necessary for the safety and well-being of its students and employees, to establish a comprehensive District Security Plan which defines actions to fortify district security procedures, building security procedures, policies and systems; enhance communications to local law enforcement; provides first aid and trauma training; and to train and arm employees within the District to intervene if deadly violence occurs or is threatened.”
“Because this will be a volunteer program, each staff member will have to apply to carry a firearm,” Kistler said. “If someone does not feel comfortable carrying a gun, they can be part of the medical team so one area can support the other.”
Kistler said implementation of the resolution is going to take time. The district is committed to looking at every part of the process to determine what can and cannot be done and what should be done, so everything is accomplished in the proper order.
“We are not going to give staff guns until we have a plan in place,” he said.