In a new approach, police in 10 communities will divvy up $21.5 million in aid from Colorado to try cleaning up high-crime areas by steering people struggling with drug addiction and mental health disorders toward treatment and housing instead of incarceration.
Officials with the Colorado Department of Human Services announced the awards Wednesday.
“We’re thrilled,” said Doyle Forrestal, CEO of the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council, a consortium of behavioral health providers in the state, which lobbied for the state financing. “We think it’s the most innovative and effective way we can use to get people into treatment in a direct way.”
The money will finance programs that will run three to five years, with state officials planning on assessing the results to determine whether the funding should continue and spread to other communities. The state is using sales tax revenue from the sale of medical and recreational marijuana to finance the initiatives.
In some instances, the new approach will result in subsidized or free housing for prostitutes and drug users, even if they continue to falter, documents show.
“Individuals entering the program may be at different stages of readiness and may progress at their own pace without fear of being terminated from the program or prosecuted,” state officials said when soliciting bids from communities willing to test the new diversion philosophy. “They will not be denied services if they continue substance use or involvement in criminal activity. As a result, housing services do not require participants’ abstinence from substance use to determine housing eligibility or as a condition of remaining housed.”
Services the state aid will finance range from inserting mental health specialists into patrol cars to hiring case managers who will manage low-level offenders police divert from the criminal justice system. In other cases, the money will pay former inmates who have conquered past drug use to counsel drug addicts and those struggling with mental health disorders.
Denver plans to use the money to tackle low-level crime along Colfax Avenue, with a special emphasis on downtown’s Civic Center park and surrounding area. More than 2,400 arrests occurred at Civic Center and nearby streets in which drugs were confiscated from January 2016 to August. About 60 percent of those individuals had been arrested before, with 330 of them arrested at least five times, according to Denver statistics. In addition to connecting low-level offenders to mental-health and substance-abuse treatment, the city also plans to use the state aid to provide heroin addicts with methadone and Buprenorphine as medication alternatives.
Alamosa, Denver, Longmont and Pueblo County will receive $575,000 each for the next three years for pre-booking diversion programs in which police divert low-level drug and prostitution offenses to services instead of the criminal justice system. Documents show Pueblo County will use the money to tackle skyrocketing rates of heroin addiction.In their proposal, county officials said heroin-overdose deaths in their area now exceed homicides, with the rate of heroin overdose deaths nearly three times that of the entire state. In 2016, it cost more than $5 million to keep 1,107 heroin users in the city jail, according to Pueblo’s calculations.
The city and county of Broomfield, Denver, El Paso County, Evans, Grand Junction, Larimer County, Longmont and Pitkin County each will receive $362,500 to partner law enforcement officers with behavioral health specialists to help intervene on mental health-related calls or other 911 calls.
Police departments in Arvada, Boulder, Longmont, Colorado Springs, Denver, Lakewood, Littleton, Montrose, Parker and Pueblo already have fledgling co-responder programs.
Longmont officials plan to use the state aid for prediversion services to bolster a police-assisted addiction recovery program. One participant in that program had been a repeat offender, who had amassed 152 incidents involving resources across the public safety and criminal justice system in the two years prior to entering that program. The public-safety and criminal-justice resources devoted to that individual plunged by more than 72 percent since his enrollment in the program, according to city officials. Another participant, according to the city’s documents submitted to the state, called the deputy chief who steered him into the new program and a life of sobriety to proclaim, “I love the new me.”
This article was originally featured on The Denver Post.