Mental Health issues affect every aspect of law enforcement, from encounters on the street, to court to incarceration. Since elected to Sheriff in 2015, Bill Elder has committed to ensuring our workforce is well trained and ready to respond to the mental health needs of our community. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Training and Crisis Intervention Training is provided to EPSO deputies to prepare them to interact with this segment of our population.
In 2017, Sheriff Elder began working with El Paso County Public Health to secure a grant to bring a “Co-Responder” policing model to rural and unincorporated areas of the county. In July of 2018, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office deployed a Co-responder Model, Patrol unit called the Behavioral Health Connect Unit or BHCON (pronounced Beacon). The BHCON unit pairs an El Paso County Sheriff’s Deputy with a Licensed Behavioral Health Clinician for a coordinated response to emergency calls that are mental-health related. The BHCON unit is funded by a grant from the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) and will be a five-year pilot comprised of a partnership between the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, the El Paso County Department of Health and UCHealth. The unit is primarily assigned to unincorporated regions of El Paso County.
The goals of the BHCON unit include:
- Provide crisis intervention response to individuals experiencing a mental health emergency
- Prevent unnecessary incarceration and/or hospitalization of mentally ill individuals by connecting them with appropriate care in the least restrictive environment
- Facilitate the return of law enforcement units to patrol activities and emergency vehicles back into rotation
- Support increased training to deputies on improved law enforcement responses to behavioral health calls through Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) and Mental Health First Aid (MHFA)
- Promote an information campaign for families, friends, neighbors and communities about mental health awareness, decreasing the stigma of mental illness and encouraging individuals to seek help
- Provide not only response, but also follow-up, to ensure a continuum of care and access to resources
The daily duties and responsibilities of the BHCON team include responding to crisis 911 calls, taking referrals from other EPSO deputies to respond to identified individuals, and completing follow up visits and/or phone calls to individuals previously contacted by BHCON. BHCON team members also participate in facilitating CIT and MHFA training for EPSO personnel and other local law enforcement agencies. BHCON team members work collaboratively with local psychiatric care providers and emergency departments to ensure appropriate care for those contacted by BHCON.