Gov. Polis signs mental health, law enforcement bills in Silverthorne
Gov. Jared Polis stopped by the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center Sunday morning, June 27, to sign a pair of bills meant to expand mental health resources for community members and peace officers.
Polis joined Rep. Julie McCluskie to address a small crowd of county, town and law enforcement officials on the outdoor stage at the arts center as he signed HB21-1030 and HB21-1085 into law, measures that will expand funding for co-responder programs throughout the state, job-related counseling for police officers and dedicated transportation services for individuals in crisis.
“We’re seeing it across the nation, not just here in Colorado, that our law enforcement officers are put into situations where they’re expected to respond to mental health crises that can be ever so challenging,” said McCluskie, who serves Summit County as part of House District 61 and who co-sponsored both bills signed Sunday. “We took this legislation, a program that was in existence, and expanded in statute the ability for our state to stand up programs — co-responder programs, community partnership programs — that will better serve an individual in behavioral and mental health crisis.”
HB21-1030 appropriates $1 million into the state-run Peace Officers Behavioral Health Support and Community Partnership Fund, which provides grants to support community-based alternative response programs. The fund was already in existence with an annual $2 million budget.
Summit County has previously made use of the grant program, which helped to set up the county’s Systemwide Mental Assessment Response Team (SMART), a program housed under the Summit County Sheriff’s Office since January last year. The initiative provides a plain-clothed deputy and clinician to respond to mental health related calls in hopes of stabilizing someone rather than falling back on arrests or emergency room visits. Individuals 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 to law enforcement agencies and behavioral health entities partnering with the agencies. The new money should help to further support existing programs and stand up similar initiatives, but funding requests from communities around the state have already pushed the program beyond its limits. There were about $6 million in grant requests this year and only $2 million to go around, according to McCluskie. The new infusion will help, but ultimately, it will be up to communities to support their own programs.
Of note, funding from the grant program for Summit’s SMART team was cut by almost $250,000 this year, a significant loss as officials began allocating additional money from the Strong Futures initiative and county reserves to bring 24/7 responses to the county.
Commissioner Tamara Pogue said the county is happy to support the program, but she hopes the state will expand grant funding to a greater level in the future.
In an interview with the Summit Daily following the signing, Polis said lawmakers would continue seeking out new funding mechanisms to help out at the state level, but he said the bill represents a good step in the right direction.
“I think it’s more of a short-term solution,” Polis said. “We need to figure out a better funding source in the long run. It absolutely can help. Frankly, many communities don’t even have these kinds of programs like Summit County has. So first of all, we want to model the success of the program and bring better support into communities that have very little that they can offer their officers of the peace. But secondly, we need to have a serious statewide discussion about the sustainable funding.”
Funding is a primary concern, but as communities around Colorado begin to experiment with their own co-responder programs and similar initiatives, officials are hopeful that existing programs can serve as a model to reduce the learning curve toward success.
“We have been talking to a number of people about coming together and training other teams at our site,” Lt. Daric Gutzwiller said, who oversees Summit’s SMART program. “… There are so many different models of what this can look like; it really is built for the community and for the people. But we’ve been talking about bringing people from different teams together and having some standardization in how teams like this work and how teams like this are funded. We do have a chance to really reach out and get this kind of program in many other communities around the state.”
In addition to expanding funding for alternative response programs, agencies can also request funds to administer counseling services for officers and their families, to implement peer support and education programs for job-related mental trauma, and develop policies to assist officers who’ve been involved in fatal uses of force.
The other bill signed into law Sunday, HB21-1085, will provide county commissioners with the option to issue licenses for alternative transportation services for individuals in crisis.
“Not only is an ambulance somewhat dramatic and traumatic for somebody in a mental health crisis, with all the sirens and the hardcore medical equipment, but it also happens to cost an awful lot,” Polis said. “… If it’s a behavioral health crisis, there’s a way that a county can create a secure transportation service that has the necessary pieces to it — not all the bells and whistles an ambulance would have — but it’s lower cost and a lot less traumatic for the person who needs to be transported.”
Pogue said the county would consider the option, and Summit may be ahead of the curve already due to the fact that the SMART team is currently able to transport individuals when necessary in unmarked vehicles. She said the evolution of the county’s secure transportation might come in the form of expanding the team’s abilities to offer transportation services.
“Our hope is that we can work with the SMART team to sort of expand, using this bill and this new authority that we have, their ability to do transport in crisis situations,” Pogue said.
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