Routt County Sheriff’s Office aims to get co-responder program off the ground |

Routt County Sheriff’s Office aims to get co-responder program off the ground

Routt County Sheriff Doug Scherar and Deputy Dawn Smith pitched one of the promises Scherar campaigned on while seeking election last fall — a mental health co-responder program — before county commissioners on Monday, Feb. 27.

Smith led the presentation Monday while urging commissioners to recognize the importance of incorporating mental health professionals into law enforcement responses. Scherar was elected sheriff last November, and instituting a co-responder program was a major part of his campaign platform.

Smith noted that right now, this is a hot topic issue in the law enforcement community and there are millions of dollars in grants at the federal and state levels to support it. She also said that if the Routt County Sheriff’s Office does not act now, she anticipates the department will be required to sometime in the near future. 

Smith stressed that although the sheriff’s officers are highly trained, they simply do not have the education or qualifications to provide adequate mental health services.

As a result, the sheriff is looking to create a mental heath response team that includes a mental health clinician, a certified law enforcement officer and a case manager. This team will be aided by wraparound support service providers. 

According to Smith and Scherar, the goal with wraparound support services is for a number of organizations to work together to provide a holistic program of supports. 

Financially, the program would need to support the three-person mental heath response team in addition to office space, a vehicle, electronics, software and training. 

The sheriff’s office cited incidents where the lack of such a program had negative outcomes, statistics on mental health interactions in law enforcement and hypotheticals that served to show commissioners how different scenarios would play out under this program. 

For instance, Smith painted a picture of an inmate deemed to be a danger to themselves or others returning back to society after being put on a M1 hold. 

This program would provide that inmate with assistance refilling and picking up medications, as well as with help finding a therapist and even transportation to the pharmacy and therapy appointments. 

In their presentation, Smith and Scherar said this would help reduce high call volume and leave more time for proactive policing, community outreach and thorough investigations.

Ultimately, both said such a program would reduce use-of-force incidents and cited statistics showing that people with serious mental illness account for 17% of use-of-force cases. 

Officials at the Routt County Sheriff’s Office continue to work on finalizing what the department will need for a budget. The program will remain on the commissioners’ consent agenda.

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