Mental health co-responder program expands to unit within Fort Collins Police Services

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A new unit within Fort Collins Police Services has been formed to focus on mental health response. 

The new Mental Health Response Team is made up of two existing Fort Collins police officers who have been partnering with the UCHealth Community Outreach, Response and Engagement Team since January, according to a news release. The CORE team includes Community Paramedic Julie Bower and co-responder and Community Programs Coordinator Stephanie Booco. 

“Mental health issues are often complex, and resolving them requires a partnership approach,” Booco said in a news release. “Simply sending a social worker to address these issues isn’t the answer. The unfortunate reality is that people in crisis can exhibit behaviors that put themselves and others at risk. Having a multidisciplinary team of compassionate professionals allows us to safely help people access the resources they need.”

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The Mental Health Response Team is the third version of the Fort Collins co-responder program, first launched in July 2018. Booco was initially hired as a full-time co-responder. In 2019, Booco was joined by Bower and the program moved under UCHealth.

The hope is that the Mental Health Response Team will help get those in a mental health crisis appropriate care, avoid unnecessary involvement of hospitals and emergency rooms and reduce incarceration for incidents related to mental illness, according to the news release. 

UCHealth Community Paramedic Julie Bower (left), FCPS officer Chris Bland, FCPS officer Annie Hill, Community Programs Coordinator and co-responder Stephanie Booco make up the new Mental Health Response Team in Fort Collins Police Services.

Bower and Booco, who will continue working under UCHealth, will be joined in their co-response work by Fort Collins police officers Chris Bland and Annie Hill as part of the new mental health unit, the release said.

Bland has been a police officer for eight years and has bachelor’s degrees in sociology/criminal justice, “extensive experience working with individuals in crisis,” and is certified as a Crisis Interventions Team instructor, according to the news release. 

Hill has been with Fort Collins Police Services for 12 years and served as a Neighborhood Engagement Team officer and Crimes Against Persons detective. She is CIT certified, as well as a certified addiction counselor and registered psychotherapist, according to a news release.

How to reach the Fort Collins Mental Health Response Team

Community members can request the Mental Health Response Team when they call police for something related to a mental health situation, according to police. 

If a team member is not available to respond, a patrol officer will respond instead and send a referral to the team if requested. Depending on the situation and the person’s needs, a Mental Health response Team officer or co-responder can follow up later. 

All Fort Collins police officers receive ongoing training on mental health response, and about a third of officers are CIT certified, according to the news release. CIT is a nationally recognized model designed to help people with behavioral health conditions access treatment instead of placing them in the criminal justice system, according to police. 

Sady Swanson covers public safety, criminal justice, Larimer County government and more throughout Northern Colorado. You can send your story ideas to her at sswanson@coloradoan.com or on Twitter at @sadyswan.