Bennet Unveils Legislation to Support Law Enforcement and Strengthen Community Policing

Bill Draws on Colorado’s Successful Community Policing Model to Help Law Enforcement Focus on Violent Crimes and Partner With Local Responders

Washington, D.C. – Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet introduced the Supporting Mental Assistance Responder Teams (SMART) Community Policing Act to provide dedicated funds for law enforcement to partner with mental health professionals, case managers, and outreach teams. Community policing allows law enforcement to partner with local responders to prevent crime, connect at-risk individuals with resources, and improve public safety. Mobile crisis teams, co-responder units, and case managers engage people experiencing crises related to mental health, poverty, homelessness, or substance use disorders to deescalate challenging situations. This reduces the strain on law enforcement and allows officers to focus on violent crimes. 

“Community policing is an essential part of our response to the rise of crime in our country. It allows law enforcement to focus on violent crimes and lets local responders respond to people experiencing mental health crises or drug addiction,” said Bennet. “Colorado’s model proves that community policing can help deescalate encounters and connect people in crisis with the mental health services or other support they need. My legislation draws on Colorado’s leadership to help communities nationwide develop similar programs to strengthen public safety.”

“Alternative response works. These types of programs provide the right response for the right situation, getting people the support they need while keeping our public safety officers focused on addressing crime,” said Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock. “Denver’s STAR program has been extremely successful and we’re thrilled it has inspired similar alternative response programs throughout the nation. Senator Bennet’s SMART Community Policing Act is vitally important to ensure people receive the mental and behavioral health support they need, not handcuffs.”

“Collaborative efforts to establish crisis response teams in the public safety arena are essential in today’s policing era. Effective access to and utilization of programs, such as mental health and police partnerships, can truly make a difference to those we serve in our communities. We applaud Senator Bennet for leading this effort here in the State of Colorado,” said Chief Doug Shoemaker, Grand Junction Police Department.

“Summit County has had a history of significant mental health issues impacting nearly everyone in our community in one way or another. That is why in January of 2020 we set up the System-wide Mental Assessment Response Team (SMART) co-responder program. The goal of the program is to de-escalate situations that have historically resulted in arrest or hospitalization and to assess whether the person can be safely stabilized in place, referred for local treatment services, or to a higher level of care. The program delivers a continuum of care from crisis response through stabilization, with the ultimate goal of safe return to the community. Since its inception, the program has been nothing short of a miracle in the benefits to our community, including saving us millions of dollars through stabilization in place, preventing trips to the emergency room and diversion. Senator Bennet has been a true visionary in recognizing the future of policing must better address how we respond to the mental and behavioral health crisis impacting Colorado and the nation. Having spoken with the Senator earlier this year as he was beginning to put what is now the SMART bill together, I am deeply impressed with how he has taken up the call and shown true leadership on this issue,” said Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons, Summit County.

Bennet’s SMART Community Policing Act draws on the success of Denver’s Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) Program, Grand Junction’s Co-Responder Program, and Summit County’s System-wide Mental Assessment Response Team (SMART) program. Combined, these programs have responded to nearly 9,000 crisis calls that provided the appropriate service or resource to the person in crisis. Colorado’s successful community policing is a model for the nation to create opportunities for law enforcement to focus on violent crime, deescalate encounters involving mental and behavioral health crises, and save taxpayer money.

Bennet’s legislation would expand or create programs that:

  • Pair a mental health clinician with a paramedic or emergency medical technician (EMT) to respond to certain low-risk calls to the 911 system;
  • Train crisis workers to respond to calls for service and help stabilize encounters;
  • Provide mental health services for persons, including those in crisis who may need further evaluation and treatment;
  • Stabilize encounters between law enforcement officers and people experiencing a mental or behavioral health crisis and connect them with appropriate support programs; and
  • Build case management and outreach teams to follow up with people to develop specific solutions to reduce repeat interactions with emergency services.

Earlier this year, Bennet requested increased funding for the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Hiring Program. The COPS Program provides funding directly to law enforcement agencies across the country to hire additional police officers to strengthen community policing and crime prevention efforts, which includes expanding crisis intervention teams. 

The bill text is available HERE. A one-page summary of the bill is available HERE.