Mental health co-responder joins Fort Collins Police Services

Charlotte Lang

With an increase in crisis calls focused on mental health and its effects on the community, the Fort Collins Police Department has added a new member to help assist officers in encountering and aiding those in crisis.

Stephanie Booco, a licensed professional counselor and licensed addiction counselor, has joined the Fort Collins Police Services as their mental health co-responder. Bocco will dispatch with officers in order to provide the correct services to those in crisis.

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While officers and dispatchers receive training to increase their effectiveness, the severity and volume of calls has dictated the need for more highly trained professionals to assist law enforcement.”

Dr. Dan Dworkin, police staff psychologist.

Dr. Dan Dworkin, the police staff psychologist and manager of the new position, said the need for such a position became evident as the number of people in crisis increased.

“The volume of calls including welfare checks, suicide and suicidal threat calls has increased significantly over the past six to seven years. Every day and every shift, officers are encountering people in crisis,” Dworkin said. “While officers and dispatchers receive training to increase their effectiveness, the severity and volume of calls has dictated the need for more highly trained professionals to assist law enforcement.”

The goal of the mental health co-responder is to help officers facing people in crisis and to foster safety for all parties.

The priorities and goals of the position are to provide crisis intervention and appropriate disposition in the field as requested by officers, Dworkin said. The role also helps people in crisis get to the proper facility, which may not always be the hospital.

“They’ll follow up on cases to help people connect with the proper mental health services and help reduce repeated calls by the same individuals,” Dworkin said.

Other goals and priorities include reducing office time spent on these types of calls so officers can attend to more law enforcement-related situations and educating officers on appropriate ways to deal with people. Dworkin said. 

The position will also help develop working relationships between police, medical and mental health agencies in order to assist most effectively.

Funding for this position is coming from UC Health, SummitStone Health Partners and FCPS, Dworkin said. The position was advertised on all sites and interviews were conducted by representatives from all three agencies.

Booco was selected for the position as a result of her past experiences with crisis intervention, law enforcement, the judicial system and veterans.

“She has a wealth of training and has done presentations on topics pertinent to this arena,” Dworkin said.

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In a release from the FCPS about the position, Bocco’s experiences include specialties in trauma, substance use, crisis assessment and forensics.

“People may call the police for help, but that doesn’t necessarily mean an officer is the best person to provide services,” said FCPS Chief Jeff Swoboda in the release. “Stephanie will be able to help individuals and families in crisis make a plan and get the assistance they need. We believe this forward-thinking approach will reduce repeated law enforcement contacts and criminal offenses stemming from mental health and substance use issues.”

The mental health co-responder position is one element of the FCPS’s Mental Disorders Response Program. Dworkin said the full elements of this program include officer and staff training, building interagency community relationships, information collection-dissemination and consistent administration for continuity of the program.

Booco’s work fits in with the third element: Information collection-dissemination.

“Officers can request the Mental Health Co-Responder and Interagency follow-up on individuals of concern,” Dworkin said. “Interagency provides information to officers about individuals they have [encountered] or may encounter in order to increase safety for all concerned and effective disposition.”

Dworkin said FCPS has similar plans for the future of their Mental Disorders Response Program.

“Due to a state grant we are currently interviewing for a second full-time position,” Dworkin said.

FCPS is also looking to add a one-day class for first responders called Mental Health First Aid for first responders, Dworkin said.

Charlotte Lang can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @ChartrickWrites.