By Dillon Thomas
FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4)– Amid an increase in mental health, substance abuse, and transient-related calls across many police jurisdictions in Colorado, one agency is hiring a mental health expert who can better assist officers in the field.
Recently, Fort Collins Police Services (FCPS) announced the hiring of Stephanie Booco, who will serve as “Mental Health Co-Responder.” In her role, she will use her education and experience in mental health situations to assist responding officers.
She will not carry a gun, nor will she enforce laws on behalf of the department. However, she will respond to scenes in which an individual could be better assisted, with someone who may be able to better understand their situation.
“When we get called out, it is not because it is people’s best day. They are going through something difficult,” Booco said.
“A position like this is a dream for a police chief,” said Fort Collins Police Chief Jeff Swoboda.
Only a few months in to his new role, Swoboda told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas he was thrilled to have one more asset aboard his team, especially since the position would improve response.
“De-escalation is something law enforcement is working a lot on right now,” Swoboda said.
Booco studied mental health in college, along with forensics. Before joining FCPS, she worked in local jails in a similar role.
Booco said she believed her expertise would not only assist officers and subjects, but it could also possibly get someone the help they need.
“Unfortunately, our officers are having to deal with (mental health and substance abuse issues) quite a bit out in the field,” Booco said. “They’re just supposed to have all the answers for everything. Sometimes an officer may not be the best person to address an issue in that moment.”
Swoboda said the recent hire could also improve moral, and response times, across his department.
“It takes a lot of the stress from the officer,” Swoboda said.
Booco is the only mental health co-responder on staff at the time of this publication. The department can access her services during her regularly scheduled hours.
Swoboda suggested interest in hiring more professionals for similar roles, to form a mental health response team. By doing so, in the future, Swoboda hoped to eventually have the resource available 24/7.
“The more mental health professionals we have on the scene with us, the better off the community is, the better off the police department is, the less impact is had on the court system, and the jails,” Swoboda said. “This is a win for everyone.”
Dillon Thomas is a reporter at CBS4 and a Colorado native. He believes everyone has a story, and would love to share yours! You can find more of his stories by following him on Twitter, @DillonMThomas.