June 21, 2023
Cheyenne, WY—Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, the Cheyenne Police Department and the Laramie County Sheriff’s Office have launched a new program to help individuals in crisis connect to appropriate behavioral health and social services. The program was created with pass-through funding from the Wyoming Department of Health’s Public Health Division.
The new program partners a CRMC behavioral health therapist with a local law enforcement officer during mental health calls.
“The goal is for the therapist and law enforcement professional to work together to safely engage, assess and direct individuals in crisis to the appropriate mental health and social services,” said Natalie Villalobos, director of social work for CRMC’s Behavioral Health Services.
“The therapists use their skills to identify how to counsel and help the individual during the initial encounter,” Villalobos said. “Once the situation is de-escalated, the therapist can then refer the individual to the appropriate mental healthcare for longer-term help. The therapist and officer later follow up with individuals they’ve been called to help to see how they are doing.”
Co-responder programs in other communities have demonstrated that partnering an officer or deputy with a mental health professional often results in less use of force and fewer injuries to officers and individuals during a mental health call, Villalobos said.
Other programs have also reduced the number of repeat calls for services, resulted in fewer arrests and minimized the strain on law enforcement resources.
“Our focus is to avoid incarcerating people in crisis and to get them the help they need,” Villalobos said.
“This program helps ensure that our efforts are not limited to a law enforcement response, but also includes expert behavioral health services and support,” said Cheyenne Police Department Chief Mark Francisco. “Even though our officers receive extensive training, they are not mental health experts. This partnership allows law enforcement to take a step back and yield to clinicians when it’s safe and appropriate to do so.”
Officials from the three agencies have been working together for several months to put all the pieces in place before launching the program, said Brittany Wardle, CRMC’s community prevention director.
“Mental health calls are often complex,” Wardle said. “We wanted to be sure the officers, deputies, therapists and others involved with the program had enough time to understand the co-responder model and received the education and training required to ensure this is a successful partnership that benefits our community.”
“Having worked with a mental health co-responder program, I know the benefits of bringing a mental health professional to assist a person in crisis,” said Chief Deputy Aaron Veldheer with the Laramie County Sheriff’s Office Operations Division. “The Laramie County Sheriff’s Office is proud to partner in this program, which will benefit all the citizens of Laramie County.”
“We would like to thank everyone involved in this project,” Francisco said. “It is our hope that this program provides the necessary education, treatment and healing to those in need of mental health services, which may reduce their contacts with law enforcement.”