Governor Jared Polis stopped by the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center on Sunday morning, June 27, to sign a pair of bills intended to expand mental health resources for community members and peace officers.
Polis joined Rep. Julie McCluskie to address a small crowd of county, city and law enforcement officials on the arts centre’s outdoor stage as he enacted Laws HB21-1030 and HB21 -1085, measures that will increase funding for statewide co-advocate programs, employment counseling for police officers, and dedicated transportation services for people in crisis.
“We are seeing across the country, not just here in Colorado, that our law enforcement officers are placed in situations where they are supposed to respond to a mental health crisis which can be very difficult,” said McCluskie, who serves Summit County as part of House District 61 and which co-sponsored the two bills signed on Sunday. “We took this law, a program that existed, and expanded in law our state’s ability to put in place programs – co-worker programs, community partnership programs – that will better serve a person in a behavioral crisis.” and mental health. ”
HB21-1030 allocates $ 1 million to the state-run Behavioral Health Support and Community Peace Officers Partnership Fund, which provides grants to support community-based alternative response programs. The fund already existed with an annual budget of $ 2 million.
Summit County has previously used the Grants Program, which helped set up the County-Wide Mental Assessment Response Team (SMART), a program hosted by the County Sheriff’s Office. Summit since January of last year. The initiative provides an assistant and an undercover clinician to answer mental health-related calls in the hope of stabilizing someone rather than falling back on arrests or emergency room visits. People the team contacts can later work with a case manager to facilitate additional mental health treatment or connect with other community resources.
The funds are available for law enforcement agencies and behavioral health entities in partnership with the agencies. The new money is expected to help further support existing programs and build similar initiatives, but requests for funding from communities across the state have already pushed the program beyond its limits. According to McCluskie, there were about $ 6 million in grant applications this year and only $ 2 million for everyone. The new infusion will help, but ultimately it will be up to the communities to support their own programs.
It should be noted that the grant program funding for Summit’s SMART team has been cut by nearly $ 250,000 this year, a significant loss as officials began allocating additional funds from the Strong Futures initiative. and county reserves to provide 24/7 responses to the county.
Commissioner Tamara Pogue said the county is happy to support the program, but she hopes the state will increase grants in the future.
In an interview with the Summit Daily after the signing, Polis said lawmakers will continue to seek new funding mechanisms to help at the state level, but he said the bill is a good step in the right direction. direction.
“I think it’s more of a short-term solution,” Polis said. “We need to find a better source of long-term funding. It can absolutely help. Frankly, a lot of communities don’t even have those kinds of programs like Summit County. So, as a first step, we want to model the success of the program and provide better support to communities that have very little to offer their peace officers. But second, we need to have a serious statewide discussion about sustainable finance. “
Funding is a major concern, but as communities in Colorado begin to experiment with their own co-sponsor programs and similar initiatives, officials hope existing programs can serve as a model for reducing the learning curve to success.
“We spoke with a number of people about the possibility of getting together and forming other teams at our site,” said Lieutenant Daric Gutzwiller, who oversees Summit’s SMART program. “… There are so many different models of what this can look like; it is really built for the community and for the people. But we talked about bringing people together from different teams and having some standardization in how teams like this work and how teams like this are funded. We have a chance to really reach out and get that kind of a program in many other communities across the state. “
In addition to increasing funding for alternative intervention programs, agencies can also apply for funding to administer counseling services to officers and their families, to implement peer support and education programs for workers. work-related mental injuries and develop policies to assist officers who have been implicated in the deadly uses of force.
The other bill was enacted on Sunday, HB21-1085, will offer county commissioners the ability to issue licenses for alternative transport services for people in crisis.
“Not only is an ambulance somewhat dramatic and traumatic for someone in a mental health crisis, with all the sirens and unconditional medical equipment, it is also very expensive,” Polis said. “… If this is a behavioral health crisis, there is a way for a county to create a secure transportation service that has the necessary components – not all the bells and whistles an ambulance would have.” – but it is less expensive and much less traumatic for the person to be transported.
Pogue said the county would consider this option and Summit may already be ahead of the curve due to the fact that the SMART team is currently able to transport individuals if needed in unmarked vehicles. She said the evolution of the county’s secure transportation could come in the form of an expansion of the team’s capabilities to offer transportation services.
“Our hope is that we can work with the SMART team to somehow expand, using this bill and this new authority that we have, their ability to carry out transports in crisis situations,” said Pogue.