Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen speaks during a Jan. 27 press conference.

Since 2016, Denver’s police department has paired up with behavioral health clinicians to respond to 911 calls that involve individuals with mental health needs – a program Denver City Council decided on Monday night should stick around.

In a 13-0 vote, the city approved a $700,000 contract extension with the Mental Health Center of Denver for the operation of the Denver Crisis Intervention Response Unit, known as the co-responder program.

The contract will run through the end of this year for an updated total of $1.7 million.

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Councilwomen Candi CdeBaca and Stacie Gilmore called the program “exciting” and “important.”

The partnership has grown from having just four licensed clinicians to 15. Twelve specialists are co-responders covering Denver’s six police districts, while the other three work at the Denver Downtown Detention Center.

The CIRU in 2018 responded to 1,725 incidents that had the potential to escalate, according to program spokesman Jeff Holliday. Of those incidents, less than 70 individuals received a citation or arrest.

In 2018, more than 550 people — nearly a third of whom met criteria for bipolar diagnosis — were provided services from the Mental Health Center of Denver. Roughly 300 individuals were placed on an emergency mental health hold, a 72-hour period in which a person is involuntarily treated and evaluated if mental illness is suspected or is deemed an “imminent danger” to themselves or others.

An additional 70 people were connected to housing and treatment, and 13 were given detox treatment.

“All of the folks involved in this program view this to be instrumental” to diverting people experiencing a behavioral health crisis from going to jail, Holliday said during a December safety committee hearing.

The 2020 contract is $300,000 less than the program’s previous contracts to more accurately reflect actual expenditures due to some costs being offset by Medicaid reimbursements to MHCD.

Over the next few years, Denver’s plan is to transition the program under the umbrella of the Department of Public Safety, which will then be responsible for its funding and management.

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