Westminster's co-responder program off to a busy start

Luke Zarzecki
lzarzecki@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 1/13/22

Westminster’s Co-Responder program is looking for a new member to join the team to help satisfy the policing needs of the community.  “The need to fill in this area of expertise is just …

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Westminster's co-responder program off to a busy start

Posted

Westminster’s Co-Responder program is looking for a new member to join the team to help satisfy the policing needs of the community. 

“The need to fill in this area of expertise is just exponential. So we are actively looking for somebody,” said Edna Hendershot, acting Deputy Chief of the police department. 

The program in Westminster started in 2019 when the department applied for a grant from theState of Colorado Department of Human Services Office of Behavioral Health. The funds allowed the department to hire two full-time licensesd therapists and a part-time supervisor to respond with officers to calls that involve a mental health component.

PREVIOUSLY: Council touts co-responder program

Although police officers do attend a 40-hour training class that specifically talks about de-esculating situations, they are not mental health experts, Hendershot said. 

“We really saw the opportunity for us to better serve our community by coupling the licensed clinician with the officers for an in progress call,” she said. 

Across the country, many police departments began looking inward to see how they can improve their efforts in response to the George Floyd protests over the summer of 2020, but Westminster adopted a collaborative philosophy with other departments early on. 

“In Westminster, we’re not afraid to reach out to our community partners to our other law enforcement partners, our federal partners, whomever it is, to help us in areas where we need assistance or expertise,” she said. 

She said there’s a common theme in Colorado with cutting-edge police programs. 

One reason as to why she thinks a program like this can work so well in Westminster is due to the fact that officers, firefighters and more are all city employees, meaning each department is not competing against each other. With that said, the program rests in the police department but they often team up with other city services.

“It truly is a Westminster effort, not just a police department effort,” she said. 

The program remains busy, which is why Hendershot is seeking another person to join the team.

They just hired a case manager to issues such as finding additional housing or substance abuse programs.

“That ongoing care is then provided to those people to help reduce that recidivism that sometimes we see,” she said. 

So far, Hendershot has tracked about 100 contacts per month for both clinicians. A contact can be in the community, at a home or over the phone. She noted that that number is for when the clinicians are working, implying there are more incidents they can respond to with more professionals around the clock.

Councilor Obi Ezeadi expressed interest in expanding the program through the next budget at the Dec. 21 council meeting. 

“I think mental health and this co-responder program should be one of our highest priorities to expand,” Councilor Ezeadi said. 

Looking to the future, she hopes to grow the program to fit Westminster’s needs. 

“I would just like to see us be able to give our citizens the best possible response that we can in the moment of crisis, whatever that is, if it’s a police crisis, if it’s something that requires the fire department, if it’s a mental health crisis, I want to be able to give them the experts in that moment that they need to start turning that day around,” she said.

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