Letter: Mental health, substance-abuse treatment shouldn’t fall to police officers | VailDaily.com

Letter: Mental health, substance-abuse treatment shouldn’t fall to police officers

Mental health and substance abuse are on everyone’s mind these days with the senseless acts of violence in our country. In Eagle County, mental-health services are limited at best and many times fall to the provider of last resort, the police officer or deputy sheriff who responds to the 911 call.

Although we have trained our policing professionals on how to handle these crises, there is still a significant lack of services in our county for anything but the most rudimentary of care. Currently, we must take a person in crisis to Grand Junction or Pueblo for in-patient assistance. This takes officers off the streets of their community for most of a work shift.

Responding to a suicide call is one of the most dangerous things a law enforcement officer has to do, but even more difficult is helping a family deal with the guilt and impact of a suicide by someone they loved. Having mental-health care in Eagle County is an important service that we should be providing today. Unfortunately, we have extremely limited service, which leaves many of our fellow citizens with no local help.

The other area of significant concern is our ability to help those who need help for alcohol and substance-abuse issues. Over the past decade, Eagle County has had only intermittent detoxification facilities, most recently with a partnership between the Vail Police Department and Mind Springs Health in Vail, where a converted bike storage room in the Municipal Building had to be used for detox. This went away due to lack of funding and rule changes by the licensing authority, the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health.

This is a service a county with the wherewithal of Eagle County should be providing. You might think this is a need by guests to our community, but more than two-thirds of those served were locals who have an abuse problem. The result of the detox facility going away is that those in need get no substance abuse services or counseling, and if we can’t find a person to take care of them, they spend the night in our holding facilities.

The county jail can’t take them due to lack of space and the fact that detox citizens and those held on criminal charges can’t share the cells in that facility; this is a state law. Mental health and substance-abuse treatment are a critical need in Eagle County; it is not appropriate to be using our law enforcement officers as the primary source of care. Let’s make a change in this situation and provide services that are commensurate with the world-class resort community we are.

Please consider carefully the opportunity to change this by voting on Eagle County ballot initiative 1A. While I serve as the chief of police for the town of Vail, this letter is written in my individual capacity and on my own time.

Thank you for your consideration,

Dwight Henninger


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