Mich. communities rely on co-responders for mental health calls
Oakland County communities use trained mental health specialists to provide assistance to EMS, law enforcement
By Anne Runkle
OAKLAND COUNTY, Mich. — A resident is hoarding items in his Birmingham home, generating calls to the police from neighbors.
Dealing with hoarding, often the result of mental illness, is likely outside the training police officers receive.
Enter the co-responder, someone with mental health training, who can navigate the sources of help available.
That’s more likely to result in a lasting solution to the problem, rather than officers repeatedly returning to the hoarder’s home to address complaints, said Capt. Ryan Kearney of the Birmingham Police Department.
The benefits are twofold.
“It’s a better life for them and a better use of our resources,” he said.
Without the expertise of a co-responder, “it’s a Band-Aid approach. It’s not correcting the deep-rooted problem,” he said.
At least seven Oakland County communities use co-responders. They work for Oakland Community Health Network and are contracted out to police in Auburn Hills, Birmingham, Bloomfield Township, Rochester and Troy. The co-responders also work in Pontiac and Rochester Hills, which receive police services from the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.
In some communities, the police department supplies the co-responder with a patrol car and other equipment and a space to work at the police station.
All the co-responders have backgrounds in social work or a related field.
Co-responders may go on incident calls with police where their expertise could be helpful. They also work behind the scenes, assisting families of the person whose mental health issue may have caused an interaction with police.
The co-responder also has knowledge of court arrangements that can benefit those with mental illness.
NEED IS INCREASING
Birmingham began the program in August 2021 with one co-responder; the department now has two, Kearney said.
Sheriff’s deputies in Pontiac also found an increased need for a co-responder, who was first assigned to that city’s substation in August 2022.
There were times the co-responder was tied up on other calls and unable to assist at other incidents that required her expertise, the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
.In July, Major Andre Ewing approved the creation of a specific patrol car for the co-responder and a deputy trained in mental health crisis intervention. This patrol car does not take standard calls, freeing the co-responder to respond to any incident where she could provide assistance.
From mid-July to early September, the “crisis car” responded to 137 calls involving mental health emergencies.
HELP FOR THOSE FALLING THROUGH THE CRACKS
Ken Stein, a co-responder for the Troy Police Department, is grateful to be in the position because it gives him the opportunity to help people who could otherwise “fall through the cracks.”
He has helped connect people with transportation services, food assistance and more, often after they’ve come in contact with the police.
“After EMS leaves, after the police leave, where do we go from here?” he said. “The police have to go on to the next call.”
The co-responder program has given officers “another layer of service,” said Sgt. Jason Clark of the Troy Police Department.
“Before this program, our officers didn’t have the ability to really help someone dealing with a mental health crisis,” Clark said. “We could only drop them off at a hospital, not knowing what would happen. Ken Stein has been able to respond to scenes, accompany our officers to the hospital and offer followup resources to the individual.”