Team approach broadens, deepens Pitkin County law enforcement contacts with people at risk

Fom left, Co-responder Kat Buesch, Aspen Police Health Services Officer Braulio Jerez, co-responder Megan Verros, and Aspen Officer Andy Williams.
PACT / Courtesy Photo

In June, in a move recognizing a change in approach to mental illness, local police officers and other professionals will attend the National Co-Responder Conference to learn how to better serve the most vulnerable members of their communities, with markedly less violent outcomes.  

“Nationally, an emerging body of evidence suggests that these programs reduce arrests, incarceration, and emergency room visits while effectively connecting people to needed care,” said Aspen Police Investigations Sgt. Rick Magnuson.

The five-year program for PACT began in 2019 and is being funded by a grant from the state Office of Behavioral Health. Pitkin County’s public health department is coordinating the initiative, which is serving as a pilot program for rural communities. The funding comes from state marijuana tax revenue.

A co-responder here is someone who is trained in dealing with mental health and drug abuse issues responding alongside a law enforcement officer. Co-response teams in other places can have a different makeup, such as a clinician with a community paramedic, or teams with all three types of responders.

PACT stands for Pitkin Area Co-Responder Teams, a collaborative community program between law enforcement and mental health professionals. The co-responder team jointly responds to calls where substance abuse and/or mental health challenges may exist or other at-risk issues.

“PACT is administered by Pitkin County Public Health, and partners with our three law enforcement offices in Pitkin County — APD, Snowmass Village Police, and the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office — as well as Mind Springs Health, which employs and supervises the field team,” said Jenny Lyons, planning and programs manager for Pitkin County Public Health.

The group going to the fourth annual National Co-responder Conference in June includes officers from Aspen Police Department, Snowmass Village Police Department, and the current PACT field team — two co-responder clinicians, a peer support specialist, and a third current co-responder clinician who is being promoted into a management role.

The expenses for the conference participants from Pitkin County will be covered by a co-responder grant from the Colorado Behavioral Health Administration. PACT is also supported by a grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Harm Reduction Grant Fund.

“APD’s commitment to the program is a strong support to PACT, as evidenced by their participation in this conference for what will be the third year running,” Lyons said. “We are also grateful for their community-policing model and human services officer program, which allows our field team to partner with officers who are especially strong and train around responding to mental health and substance use-related calls. PACT and the human services officer frequently respond together to calls in the city, and it has been valuable to our clients to have both law enforcement and mental health professionals to connect with.”

The team that attended CORCON last year: From left, Braulio Jerez, Chris Sulek, Anthony Todaro, Zach Wilcher, Kayla Bailey, Kat Buesch, Atis Spuris, Megan Verros and Rick Magnuson.
PACT / Courtesy Photo

The PACT team frequently responds to welfare checks when family, friends or co-workers call in that they are concerned about someone. The PACT clinicians respond with law enforcement and complete a safety assessment, build rapport with the person, and refer them to appropriate treatment or resources, officials said.

The co-responders and Aspen Police human services officer often respond to reports of people who are unhoused and work to build a connection with them and offer appropriate resources. 

“We also get referrals from officers who might encounter a person on a very different type of call such as a traffic stop, and would make a referral to PACT if they think the person needs resources,” Lyons said. “Much of what the team does is follow up, working to keep someone connected and out of crisis.”

The peer support specialist is also available to come around people who might need another angle of support and would benefit from connecting with someone who uses lived experiences and training in peer support to model moving through mental health challenges.

PACT’s goals:

  • To de-criminalize mental illness by reducing incarcerations of low-level offenders with mental illness.
  • To de-stigmatize mental illness, making it easier for people to seek and receive treatment and encouraging positive conversations around mental wellness.
  • To decrease emergency room visits for mental health care.
  • To reduce repeat police calls for individuals in need of community-based services and mental health support.
Braulio Jerez, health and human services officer, and Katie Hundertmark, PACT program co-responder, in front of the Aspen Police Department.
Maddie Vincent/Snowmass Sun

Members of the PACT team:

  • A co-responder, who is a mental health counselor. 
  • Local police officers and deputies from the Aspen Police Department, the Snowmass Village Police Department, and the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. 
  • A case manager and a peer support specialist. 
  • Mind Springs Health.

How does the PACT program work?

  • On scene, the mental health co-responder works with officers and deputies to coordinate access to resources and provide necessary support. 
  • For clients who meet certain criteria, a full-time case manager follows up after the co-response to support individuals and discuss next steps.  
  • Some clients also meet with a full-time peer support specialist who utilizes lived experiences that help model moving through mental health challenges. 

For more information:


See more