CIT Program Helps Pueblo Police Respond to Mental Health Needs on Calls
Pueblo Police Chief Chris Noeller said he knew the Crisis Response Team, a partnership between Health Solutions and the Pueblo Police Department, was a success when he discovered that everything department officer was ready to ride with a clinician.
The CIT program was launched in 2016 in response to increased mental health calls, said Jason Chippeaux, CEO of Health Solutions.
“Our department tries to be very progressive in how we deal with issues within the community,” Noeller said.
“Former Chief Troy Davenport saw an opportunity for us to bring in people who had skills we didn’t have, to help people in mental health crisis. We started to see an increase in calls mental health around 2013-2014 and we were looking for ways to put ourselves in a position to help individuals in ways that we normally cannot as police officers – sending someone to jail is not necessarily what should happen if someone is in a mental health crisis.
Around this time, Health Solutions approached the police with the idea of a co-respondent model, and the CIT program was born.
“We started with a very small team,” Chippeaux said. “Some of the unique features that the CIT team brings to Pueblo is that they ride with police officers on their shift. There is a therapist in the car to be available as a resource for the officer if they encounter a call which presents with behavioral health components.”
“Sending someone to jail is not necessarily what needs to happen if someone is in a mental health crisis.”
– Pueblo Police Chief Chris Noeller
CIT clinicians are mental health professionals trained by Health Solutions who go through the same training as Pueblo police officers, minus some elements like firearms training.
“The ministry and Health Solutions understood the cultural difference that can be present between a public safety lens and a behavioral health lens,” Chippeaux said. “We wanted to bring those cultures together, so having them go through the academy with future law enforcement officers really helped do that — it’s unique to Pueblo as far as I know.”
The co-responder helps offer additional tools to deal with certain situations that in the past may have led to the use of force, Noeller said.
“Suicide is a call where officers without specialized training or tools, or the help of someone like a co-responding therapist, we are limited on our options. The use of force, in the past, was often used to bring someone down, be taken into custody, taken to the hospital and taken into custody.”
Meanwhile, he said, CIT clinicians have training and skills that officers don’t have to interact with these people, allowing for lower levels of force.
Currently, there are five clinicians for approximately 200 officers, with two case managers to provide background follow-ups, such as ensuring those contacted are connected to the appropriate resources and ensuring they attend appointments. you, said Chippeaux.
“From Health Solutions’ perspective, this program is critical,” he said.
“Often the first contact we have is through the law enforcement system. To be able to respond on the spot, firstly, it de-clutters what’s happening on the law enforcement side, you can get the right service applied to the right problem. Rather than trying to use a screwdriver to drive a nail, you can actually use a hammer. From an efficiency standpoint, this puts us in immediate contact with a customer, and early intervention is paramount in terms of long-term recovery.
“It also provides an opportunity to keep these people out of a legal scenario that will hinder or make it difficult to get long-term care. Often we can defuse to a point where further legal action isn’t necessary.”
Pueblo court system:Pueblo judge rules attempted murder case can go to trial
Noeller said police officers, who spend countless hours in their patrol vehicles, tend not to like others following them.
“Their car is their office,” he said. “It would be like me coming into your office and sitting with you for eight hours. It gets old really fast.”
When the program started, Noeller said the department had a roster of about 10 officers ready to take on a clinician.
“Now you hear several times a day on the radio, ‘Does anyone have a CIT clinician?’ So we’re actively using them every day. When they’re not around or busy with another call, you can hear it in the officer’s voice saying, ‘OK, I have to handle this without him.’ ‘help and additional knowledge.’ “
Noeller also pointed out that the program had a greater impact on those contacted, better community relations and a reduction in the time spent on mental health calls, thanks to the expertise of a clinician.
The biggest factor limiting hiring more clinicians is money, Chippeaux said.
In 2021, the City of Pueblo provided the program with funding from the American Rescue Plan. While Chippeaux said he doesn’t know how much the program costs on an annual basis, a single master’s-level therapist typically costs around $100,000, including salary and benefits, he said.
Noeller stressed the importance of the program, saying many of the calls police respond to have mental health elements.
“Throughout my 29 years in law enforcement, the number of mental health calls we receive has steadily increased. And this partnership, having these resources, is crucial, especially when everything what we do is scrutinized.”
After:Inmate dies in Pueblo County Jail
Questions, comments or story tips? Contact Justin at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @jayreutter1.