FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – Fort Collins Police Services will be the first agency in Colorado to partner with “Vitals Ap,” a technology that will help first responders identify and properly interact with community members who live with intellectual disabilities. In partnership with UCHealth, the health provider that has covered the associated costs for the police department in order to launch the app in Fort Collins, Fort Collins police and mental health responders will be able to better serve those who have profiles through the app.
The app, which was developed by former law enforcement officers and experts in mental health response, is subscription-based. For as little as $2.99 a month families can create a profile on the app for their loved ones. A profile includes a photo of the individual, their name and information about their disabilities that the family feels comfortable sharing.
The app also includes information on what types of actions an officer can expect from the user that is experiencing distress, contact information for loved ones and even best practices for that individual’s preferred form of de-escalation.
Users are given a keychain that it tied to their account. An officer only has to come within 80 feet of the individual for the officer’s phone to link the profile.
Police are unable to track the whereabouts of a user, as the app on the officer’s phone only works if they are within 80 feet of the user.
“We are the first co-response in the nation that is using this,” FCPS Chief Jeff Swoboda told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas. “Vitals is going to allow our officers to interact with people in a different way.”
FCPS has a standing partnership with UCHealth and the mental health response team. The team has been used in the past year to respond to mental health calls which may be better for medical providers to respond to instead of police. In its opening phase in Fort Collins, Vitals will be used predominantly by the mental health response team from UCHealth. Once officers are further trained on the usage of the application they will also adopt the process.
“It is that type of interaction that is going to be a game-changer for police officers on the street,” Swoboda said.
Users can also provide phone numbers associated with the person living with individual mental health challenges. Those phone numbers and the associated data are then provided to an estimated 85% of 911 dispatch centers currently working with Vitals App, allowing dispatchers to understand how to better handle a 911 call.
“(Our officers will be able to approach knowing) what triggers the person? What causes them to have more stress, and what causes them to calm down?” Swoboda said.
“It is a game-changer. The ability to understand why someone is acting outside of our expectations is huge,” said Ali Thompson, the mother of two children in northern Colorado currently subscribed to the service. “I have two children, both have special needs.”
Thompson’s son lives with autism, and her daughter has been diagnosed as non-verbal. Thompson said her son is large in stature and can be intimidating to many, especially those who do not understand why he may respond to diverse situations in unique ways.
“I worry just about every day,” Thompson said.
Thompson, who also used to serve in law enforcement years ago, said her son’s common responses during stressful times could be concerning to law enforcement officers that do not know him.
“His stemming is pulling his hair or pulling stuff out of his pockets, which is a red flag for law enforcement,” Thompson said. “I don’t want someone to perceive him as a threat. I want them to understand that his mind works differently.”
Thompson said she signed both of her children up for the application in hope that it would help them better live safe independent lives. She said she also now feels more comfortable allowing her daughter to ride her scooter further distances while largely unsupervised because of the service. If her daughter gets lost or needs help, responding officers in Fort Collins will be able to know where she lives and how to get ahold of her family.
Fort Collins is the only police department in Colorado currently offering the service. However, the company behind the app hopes to expand that soon.
Users of the app are not limited to the services just in their respective community. If a subscriber in Fort Collins is on vacation in Florida in a community that also operates under the service, the application works the same.
Chief Swoboda said the app also places more pressure on the community to make sure they are doing their part to help the police department better serve those with unique mental challenges. By offering up the Vitals App service, Swoboda said there is now one less excuse for officers not having access to critical information that can better help individuals during a crisis.
“It puts some responsibility back on the family members as well. If you know those types of things are happening, let’s not just rely on police officers to figure it out at three in the morning with no other services around,” Swoboda said “Let’s take some proactive steps.”