Gov. Jared Polis stopped by the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center Sunday morning June 27 to sign a pair of bills to expand mental health resources for community members and peace officers.
Polis joined Rep. Julie McCluskie in addressing a small crowd of county, city and law enforcement officials on the stage outside the arts center as he signed HB21-1030 and HB21-1085 into law, measures that will increase funding for statewide co-response programs, employment-related counseling for police officers, and dedicated transportation services for those in crisis.
“We’re seeing it across the country, not just here in Colorado, that our law enforcement officers are put in situations where they’re supposed to be responding to mental health crises that can be so difficult,” McCluskie said. , which serves Summit County as part of House District 61 and which co-sponsored the two bills signed into law on Sunday. “We’ve taken this legislation, a program that existed, and expanded into law our state’s ability to put in place programs — co-responsor programs, community partnership programs — that will better serve a person in a behavioral health crisis. and mental.
HB21-1030 earmarks $1 million for the state-run Peace Officers Community Partnership and Behavioral Health Support Fund, which provides grants to support community-based alternative intervention programs. The fund already existed with an annual budget of $2 million.
Summit County has used the grant program in the past, which helped establish the county’s Mental Assessment Response Team (SMART), a program hosted by the Summit County Sheriff’s Office since January of last year. The initiative provides an undercover assistant and clinician to respond to mental health-related calls in hopes of stabilizing someone rather than falling back on arrests or emergency room visits. Those contacted by the team can then work with a case manager to facilitate additional mental health treatment or connect with other community resources.
Funds are available for law enforcement and behavioral health entities in partnership with agencies. The new money is expected to help further support existing programs and set up similar initiatives, but requests for funding from communities across the state have already pushed the program beyond its limits. There have been about $6 million in grant applications this year and only $2 million for everyone else, according to McCluskie. The new infusion will help, but ultimately it will be up to communities to support their own programs.
It should be noted that funding from Summit’s SMART Team Grant Program was reduced 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 grant funding in the future.
In an interview with Summit Daily after the signing, Polis said lawmakers would continue to seek new funding mechanisms to help at the state level, but he said the bill was a good step in the right direction. direction.
“I think it’s more of a short-term fix,” Polis said. “We need to find a better source of long-term funding. It can absolutely help. Frankly, many communities don’t even have these kinds of programs like Summit County. So, first of all, we want to model the success of the program and provide better support to communities that have very little to offer their peacekeepers. But second, we need to have a serious statewide discussion about sustainable funding.
Funding is a major concern, but as communities in Colorado begin to experiment with their own co-responsor programs and similar initiatives, officials hope that existing programs can serve as a model to reduce the learning curve to success. .
“We’ve talked to a number of people about coming together and forming other teams at our site,” said Lt. Daric Gutzwiller, who oversees Summit’s SMART program. “…There are so many different models of what it might look like; it’s really built for the community and for the people. But we talked about bringing people from different teams together and having some standardization in how teams like this operate and how teams like this are funded. We have a chance to really reach out and get this type of program in many other communities across the state.
In addition to increasing funding for alternative intervention programs, agencies can also apply for funds to administer counseling services to officers and their families, to implement peer support and education programs for work-related mental trauma and develop policies to help officers who have been involved. in the deadly use of force.
The other bill 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 basic medical equipment, but it’s also very expensive,” Polis said. “…If it is a behavioral health crisis, there is a way for a county to create a safe transportation service with the necessary elements – not all the bells and whistles that an ambulance would have – but it’s cheaper and much less traumatic for the person who has to be transported.
Pogue said the county would consider the option, and Summit may already be ahead of the curve due to the SMART team currently being able to transport individuals if needed in unmarked vehicles. She said the county’s safe transportation evolution could come in the form of expanding the team’s capabilities to offer transportation services.
“Our hope is that we can work with the SMART team to kind of expand, using this bill and this new authority that we have, their ability to do transportation in crisis situations,” Pogue said.