In 2018, Stephanie Booco, M.A. ’12, joined Fort Collins Police Services as the department’s first mental health co-responder. An alumna of the Master of Arts in Counseling: Specialization in Forensic Counseling program in Chicago, Booco uses her education and counseling experience to assist responding officers in the northern Colorado city.
Her role provides an opportunity to help officers better understand how to interact with citizens with different mental health needs. It also fosters acceptance of mental health as a topic in need of more attention in the community.
“My experience with Fort Collins Police Services has been incredible,” Booco said. “The officers warmly welcomed me into the department, and now that we have had some time to work together, they are utilizing my expertise more and more across a variety of call types and situations.”
The department has had an in-house police psychologist for more than 30 years, which Booco said has resulted in a culture that is more aware of mental health needs in the community.
“My overall goal is to contribute to a healthier community by utilizing my skills and knowledge to build rapport with my fellow community members and assist them in getting any care they may need,” Booco said, adding that the focus on mental health has fostered an increased rapport between the officers and the community.
Booco works alongside officers to divert people with mental health needs from the justice system and emergency departments when possible. They often are able to take citizens to a local walk-in crisis center, connect them to resources to address their needs, or just spend a little extra time talking them through a time of need.
Booco said that in her first 30 working days, she had around 100 calls for service for only mental-health-related situations.
“Increasingly, officers are being called to scenes where mental illness is the reason for the call, not a crime,” Booco said. “Having a mental health co-responder is a unique tool for officers to deploy because having a civilian on scene with the citizens in need of assistance decreases stress.
“A co-responder in the car with an officer during transport of a citizen fosters an environment where people report feeling more comfortable, thus supporting increased safety for all parties involved.”
Booco said that with this structure, more people are getting the care they need.
Booco’s position is funded by SummitStone Health Partners, UCHealth, and Fort Collins Police Services. She also works with an interagency group comprising approximately 40 local agencies. “From legal entities to healthcare providers to local shelters for individuals facing homelessness, the community has come together in a major way to collaborate on meeting the needs of its citizens,” Booco said.
This aspect of community connection resonates with Booco. “Alfred Adler has always been my favorite psychologist because of his focus on community connections being a critical aspect of health.”