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Chapel Hill hosts National Co-Responder Conference, emphasizes mental health crisis responders

The third annual National Co-Responder Conference, held at the Carolina Inn, is pictured on Wednesday, June 8, 2022.

The third annual National Co-Responder Conference, or CoRCon, was held this week at the Carolina Inn. 

Nearly 40 workshops and breakout sessions were held from June 6 to 8, with keynote speeches and events focused on combining police response with behavioral health specialists.

More than 300 professionals from around the country attended the conference, which was hosted and promoted by the International Co-Responder Alliance.

Co-response is a strategy used by some first responders and law enforcement which includes bringing mental or behavioral health professionals to respond to 911 calls and crisis situations, aiming to de-escalate and improve the quality of first responder interactions with the public.

ICRA Board of Directors’ Public Information OfficerAnnie Burwell said the nationwide representation at the conference shows that the country is beginning to accept co-response as a viable option for first responders dealing with behavioral health situations.

“For everybody to come together who’s involved in first response, to partner with the experts in the field, it’s really exciting,” Burwell said. “It helps us bring the best services to people in an emergency.”

Burwell heads the Crisis Response Unit at her local fire department in Round Rock, Texas, and she said she has had overwhelmingly positive experiences with the co-response model.

She said the loved ones of those in crisis are grateful when they can speak with mental health professionals instead of receiving police- or fire-heavy response.

“To be able to keep people in their community, instead of transporting them to someplace that maybe isn’t going to help them out, it’s a wonderful feeling,” Burwell said.

One of the workshops held on Monday was a presentation from the Douglas County, Colorado, Youth Community Response Team. By having a law enforcement officer, a mental health professional and a case manager on each case, the unit has managed to have several hundred successful encounters and connect youth with mental health resources.

The unit defined a successful encounter as one where no further action, such as sending an individual to the emergency room, was required.

Burwell, who has experience working with adolescents on behavioral health issues, said she thinks co-response is the best option for youth struggling with their mental health.

“We know that youth suicides are up, we know there are issues with mass shootings, so of course, co-response is a perfect model to meet some of those needs,” she said. “For those high-acuity, potentially dangerous situations, co-response is perfect.”

Chapel Hill’s co-response team, the Crisis Unit, was founded in 1973. Its five human services professionals respond with officers to calls involving domestic violence, death notifications and trauma, among other situations.

One of Chapel Hill Police Department's newest crisis counselors, Jordan Hyler, said in her six months on the job, she has already responded to about 100 calls.

“What we’re able to do is target those people who need a higher level of care,” Hyler said. “The more they build a relationship with us as counselors, the more we can be that liaison to get them connected to resources, we’re able to take the burden off of our officers and our hospital staff.”

In addition to responding to calls with officers, Chapel Hill’s crisis counselors follow up with individuals, provide education to first responders and administer the Criminal Justice Debt Program, which relieves debt related to court-mandated fines and fees.

“Every time our CHPD crisis unit counselors are called upon in our community, we know that they are making a difference and I’m confident that those agencies who are attending CoRCon will gain new insights into how they can provide the same level of service in their communities,” Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said in a June 6 press release.

Chapel Hill Community Safety Public Information Officer Alex Carrasquillo said the crisis counselors left the conference feeling inspired by the sessions they attended. He said they are proud of the work they do and appreciate learning from others.

"It's exciting to see how fast the co-response field is growing," he said.


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Ethan E. Horton

Ethan E. Horton is the 2023-24 city & state editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as a city & state assistant editor and as the 2023 summer managing editor. Ethan is a senior pursuing a double major in journalism and media and political science, with a minor in history.

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