About 20 Loveland residents gathered outside Loveland City Hall on Sunday to call for changes within the Loveland Police Department and to the availability of mental health treatment in the community.
“Again,” shouted one man who attended the rally organized by the Loveland Justice League.
The Loveland Justice League has been leading community efforts to call for change within the police department and city leadership since the violent arrest of Karen Garner, a senior resident who suffered from dementia, came to light earlier this year.
On Sunday, they were spurred to gather after a Loveland police officer shot a 19-year-old while responding to his grandmother’s 911 plea for help, a plea in which the family’s attorney said she stressed he was suffering from a mental health crisis and could be calmed down.
A call for change
Jen Castaneda, organizer of the rally and one of the founders of the Loveland Justice League, said the group gathered to create community awareness and to find ways to come together to bring about change. She spoke of the Monday shooting, coming months after the arrest of Garner came to light, and after residents have been calling for change week after week after week.
“We don’t know everything yet, but we know enough that we felt it was important to come together as a community and bring about awareness,” Castaneda said.
She said she has heard similar stories from about a dozen residents who have called police for help, or encountered police when they are in need of help, only to be met by violence.
She said that Loveland Police Chief Bob Ticer has assured her, and others, that police are changing, are getting more training and have beefed up their co-responder program, which is designed to have a mental health professional available alongside officers when those resources are needed.
Yet, again, someone in a mental health crisis was met with violence by police, she said.
“Changes have not occurred,” Castaneda said. “Propaganda has occurred, but that’s about all.”
So on Sunday, she once again called for the resignation of Ticer and asked the Loveland Police Department to change its co-responder program and model it after the Denver Police Department’s Support Team Assisted Response, or STAR, program, which she said has shown astounding success.
The biggest difference, she said, is that Loveland’s program relies on the officer who responds to request help from a co-responder at his or her discretion.
The STAR program instead dispatches mental health support at the same time as an officer is dispatched, with the need for help being evaluated as soon as the call comes in, she said.
Police say co-responder program works
No one from the Loveland Police Department attended the rally, and police officials when reached after the event, said they cannot talk about the Monday shooting or related criticisms because it is still being investigated by the 8th Judicial District’s Critical Incident Response Team.
But Lt. Jeff Pyle said the LPD’s co-responder program works and the department is looking for ways to expand it to help more people. Last year, he said, the two mental health professionals that are part of the program — launched in 2016 and the first in place in Larimer County — handled 2,400 calls, including follow-ups after the initial call.
The mental health professionals respond at the request of police officers when it is safe, Pyle said.
“If someone is armed with a knife, we wouldn’t let them in because safety is at risk,” Pyle said.
He stressed that the protocols are set up to protect the co-responders as well as to help residents in need of mental health resources.
On Monday night, the co-responder on duty had gone home when the call came in, but he was called after the danger had passed and responded to the hospital to help the 19-year-old’s family, according to Pyle.
Pyle did not say anything else about the shooting because the official investigation is still underway.
“We haven’t even gotten the results from the DA’s Office on the CIRT,” Pyle said. We are waiting for that to happen. … We have faith in the DA’s office to complete a thorough investigation.”
Rallying in support
Both Castaneda and Loveland resident Shane Ritter spoke at the rally, calling for love, support and resources for those in need, and calling for change. They urged residents to come together and to demand changes within the police department, so officers can do their jobs with the correct training and so residents can get the help they need without unnecessary violence.
As the Loveland residents spoke with emotion, and sometimes tears, during the rally, they stressed that they have no political motive and simply want to bring about change, to help residents who have nowhere to turn for the resources they need, and to have city officials hear residents’ concerns.
But so far, instead of being met with open minds, they have been shut down and threatened, they said, vowing to continue to listen to the community and make their voices heard for those who need help.
“We will stand for them,” Castaneda said. “We will support them, and we will find solutions for them together.”
And she urged city officials to come to the table and really bring about changes, not just say they are adding training or additional co-responders, but bring about a different result in the future.
“We have a justice system that is burying mental health and criminalizing them for being ill,” Castaneda said. “How is that acceptable? What in the hell is going on in Loveland?”
She added, “I say no more. … Enough is enough.”
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