Mental Healthcare 101 for Police Officers

A family member or loved one is having a mental health crises, and is a danger to you or to themselves. You know they need help in a clinical setting, but who do you do right now?

The University of Colorado is one four universities within the UCEDD/LEND network that were selected to each receive $50,000 of funding through the Special Hope Foundation’s Grant Program, supporting organizations that promote comprehensive health care for adults with developmental disabilities by raising awareness at the healthcare student level and by supporting their communities:

To some, a call to the local police department doesn’t always signify good news.  But for Blake Barnes and his family, the Castle Rock Police Department is a source of support, encouragement, and refuge. 

Barnes came to the attention of officers in 2010 for forty-five different emergency calls made to the department for mental illness associated crises involving knives, breaking objects and a suicide attempt.  Despite the circumstances, Barnes likes seeing officers in uniform and even calls the department when he is having a bad day or for advice on whether or not to get a puppy. 

So to what can we attribute such a transformation?  To Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) and the officers who are trained in the program to recognize mental illness and intervene early and proactively.  Included in these ranks are Captain Attila Denes and Officer Seth Morrissey of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. The two worked to build a rapport with Barnes and to make it a priority to put him at ease before an emergency occurs.

Barnes is just one example of how mental health care is increasingly becoming a part of police duty. All too often, the first line of defense against mental health crises are police officers. Health professionals, families, caregivers, and people with mental illnesses need to know that resources are available.

Health professional students from the Anschutz Medical Campus learned about these resources first-hand from Captain Denes and Officer Morrissey in a lecture organized by the Disability Dialogue Student Group on Thursday, March 6th, 2014. 

Denes, who co-founded the Crisis Intervention Teams Association of Colorado in 2007, talked to students about the interface between the criminal justice system and mental health, which contributes to 7-10% of police contacts.  With 16-70% of inmates meeting the criteria for mental illness and only 16 community mental health centers throughout Colorado, there are inadequate resources to meet the growing need.

Crisis Intervention Teams aim to alleviate these needs by training officers in an intense forty-hour training program that involves interactions with clinicians, psychiatric visits, and role-play.  The objectives of this training are to help officers recognize mental illness, substance abuse, and other mental disorders and intervene early and with minimal force. Their ultimate goal is to divert mental health issues away from the criminal justice system and into community health centers.

With over half of all officers in Colorado CIT certified in over 70 police agencies in 13 counties, these resources are ready and available to make a positive impact in the community.  But, as Officer Morrissey reminds the students—all of these resources can only make an impact if people know about them and as health professionals, it is important to inform parents about Crisis Intervention Teams and encourage them to reach out ahead of time, before anything bad happens. 

To learn more about Crisis Intervention Teams visit

Learn more about Special Hope’s UCEDD/LEND grant recipients.

2017-05-03T11:25:44+00:00 April 21st, 2014|Blog|

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