Mental health and law enforcement: El Paso County Sheriff’s Office using BHCON teams

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EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. — Suicide calls, welfare checks, attempted suicides. Anything mental health-related, Behavioral Health Connect (BHCON) teams are on the way.

Once a call comes in and the team arrives, the deputy secures the scene.

“I make the scene safe,” El Paso County Deputy Jennifer Knutson said. “If I can de-escalate an individual that’s in crisis I try to do that as well.”

Once the all clear is given, the behavioral clinician comes in.

“Figure out if the person is a danger to himself, to others, or even disabled,” said UCHealth Behavioral Clinician Drusilla Wacker. “If he or she is able to care for themselves.”

While some people believe it’s time for law enforcement agencies to learn more about mental health and partner with mental health experts, others fear for clinicians’ safety.

According to this team, however, safety is the number one priority.

“Not bring her into that hostile environment,” Knutson said. “Making sure folks don’t have weapons on them, making sure they’re not doing anything outrageous to affect our safety.”

“Safety has never been a concern,” Wacker told FOX21. “She [Dep. Knutson] is a perfectionist when it comes to my safety.”

It’s a model that was encouraged by El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder and is now being adopted by law enforcement agencies around the country. Four two-person teams now cruise El Paso County’s 2,100 square miles with increased knowledge and training about mental health.

Courtesy of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office

“If we can prevent unnecessary incarceration or hospitalization that’s huge,” Knutson explained. “If we can prevent getting into a vicious circle of replicating services, that’s a win.”

If you find yourself in a situation you think requires BHCON’s help, contact 911 and tell the dispatcher it is a mental health-related situation.

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