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Durango police, Axis Health add unmarked car for behavioral health crises

Joint Co-Responder Program aims to reduce stigma with the new vehicle and build on a successful first year
Durango Police Department Officer Jonathan Mizner, a member of DPD’s and Axis Health System’s Co-Responder Program (CORE), displays the electronics and trunk of the CORE team’s new car Friday at Santa Rita Park. CORE pairs a police officer and crisis specialist to assist community members experiencing behavioral health crises. (Aedan Hannon/Durango Herald)

The Durango Police Department and Axis Health System have unveiled the first unmarked car developed specifically to meet the needs of their Co-Responder Program (CORE), which pairs a police officer and crisis specialist to assist community members experiencing behavioral health crises.

The hope is that new vehicle will remove any stigma associated with police vehicles and allow the team to better serve those the program aids.

“If someone is having a crisis, they’re already having enough difficulty, and we don’t want to add to it even further and compound it,” said Durango Police Chief Bob Brammer. “Hopefully, this will alleviate that (stigma) and people will be receptive to services because that’s what we’re trying to do is help the community.”

The new DPD vehicle will be dedicated to the CORE team, which responds to nonemergency calls and behavioral health crises. Unlike DPD’s regular fleet of Chevrolet Tahoes, the car is based on a Ford Police Interceptor.

It comes complete with lights and some of the other features of police vehicles, but the car is unmarked and white with the seating of a traditional SUV. In its trunk, the car can carry snacks, water, toiletries and other basic necessities, which the CORE team has carried since the beginning of the program.

It is also a hybrid, which Brammer said would help the city in its environmental goals and save the city money.

CORE previously used a combination of marked and unmarked DPD Tahoes for the program.

The vehicle cost about $58,000 between the purchase and equipping it to meet the needs of the CORE team. A $15,000 donation from High Noon Rotary and a roughly $5,000 donation from Summit Church helped to defray the costs.

The team of the Co-Responder Program (CORE), a partnership between Durango Police Department and Axis Health System, unveils their new car alongside representatives from High Noon Rotary and Summit Church on Friday at Santa Rita Park. With the unmarked car, CORE aims to remove the stigma of police vehicles and build off of the program’s successful first year. (Aedan Hannon/Durango Herald)

Meg Foley with High Noon Rotary said Brammer mentioned in an update to the group that the police department was aiming to purchase a vehicle for the CORE partnership.

“We saw an opportunity to get involved and see if we could help make that happen. It seems like a very important community partnership, and we were just happy to support it in any way that we could,” Foley said.

Though having an unmarked car dedicated to CORE may seem inconsequential, those involved were excited about the development.

“It’s a little bit more incognito, so if we show up to someone’s house (or) we show up to a business it’s not immediately apparent there’s officers and a therapist here talking to someone,” said Matt Teague, a crisis therapist with the CORE team. “We’re just able to integrate into the community a little bit better that way and be more respectful for their privacy, and it’s just not as intimidating, too.”

DPD Deputy Chief Brice Current said the vehicle will allow officers and behavioral health specialists to better do their jobs.

“What’s cool about this group (of crisis therapists) that we’ve been supplied from Axis is they are all professionals,” he said. “They are really good at what they do, and if you listen to them talk in any meeting, you’ll see that.

“You can have all of the professionals in the world, which we do with Axis and certified officers that are trained, but they need tools to be professional,” he said.

DPD and Axis Health System launched CORE in February 2021 to better respond to nonemergency calls and behavioral crises. The program drew on similar models throughout the country, Brammer said.

It pairs DPD officers trained in crisis intervention with Axis Health System’s crisis therapists who ride and respond together.

In its first year, CORE helped more than 600 people in Durango, according to a March 2022 Axis Health System news release.

Many of the calls CORE responds to involve welfare checks, disputes, mental health escalations, substance use and homelessness, among others.

Beyond the immediate assistance the team provides, CORE also helps direct those it serves to other supportive services.

Durango Police Department’s and Axis Health System’s partnership on the Co-Responder Program (CORE) has produced a dedicated car for the team’s crisis-trained officers and therapists. In addition to helping the CORE team, the car will serve as a test trial for DPD as the police department considers transitioning its fleet to the hybrid Ford police cruisers. (Aedan Hannon/Durango Herald)

“This is cutting edge in a lot of ways,” said DPD Officer Jonathan Mizner, a member of the CORE team. “In many parts of the country, this is still in the future. We’re right on the edge of this new concept.”

CORE has had an immediate impact in Durango, and awareness surrounding the team and their work has grown throughout the first year, said Elizabeth Gleason, a crisis therapist with CORE. Community members have increasingly sought out CORE as they have learned more about the team’s work.

“In the community, it’s been neat to see somebody request for our team,” she said.

Current said much of the program’s success stems directly from CORE’s outreach and engagement with the Durango community.

“We’re able to build relationships early with people in the community, especially people that experience or possibly will experience crisis,” he said. “When an event does occur, they’re able to actually have that relationship because it’s all about trust.”

The success of CORE has led the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office to create a similar program that it will implement soon, Brammer said.

In addition to helping the CORE team, the car will serve as a test trial for DPD as the police department considers transitioning its fleet to the hybrid Ford police cruisers.

During Friday’s unveiling, Brammer highlighted the progress CORE has made and pointed toward the sustained success of the program.

“It’s exciting that you guys are pioneering this work within our area to support our community, and having the partnerships within our community is real special,” he said.

ahannon@durangoherald.com

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