Monday, April 22nd, 2024 Church Directory
roy neumann has been serving as the Sherburne County mental health co-responder for two years. (Photo by Katherine Cantin.)

Sherburne’s co-responder program celebrates 2nd anniversary

Roy Neumann, mental health co-responder working with Becker Police, Big Lake Police, Elk River Police, and the Sherburne County Sheriff, will soon be celebrating two years of working with Sherburne County law enforcement. Neumann earned his master’s degree in counseling, psychology, and criminal justice in 1999. He has served with Benton County as a reserve deputy for 19 years. He has amazing experience working with police and focusing on the mental health of individuals in the community, which is what he now does for Sherburne County as a co-responder. 

As a co-responder, Neumann is available to police to assist in working with individuals in a mental health crisis.

On the Job

A few years ago, the city of St. Cloud decided to implement a mental health co-responder program based on a similar program in Denver. Neumann applied for the position, and came in second place in the interview process, right after the woman who ran the Denver program herself. Neumann said he was honored to have come so close to being chosen, second only to the person who was possibly the most qualified mental health co-responder in the country, but was nonetheless disappointed. However, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as a few years ago Sherburne County decided to begin a similar program. 

Neumann applied for the position and was accepted, and he says it’s been the best job on the planet for the past two years. 

For the first year, Neumann spent time riding along with police officers from each of the four departments he worked with. For this past year, Neumann has had his own vehicle which he can use to travel directly to where he’s needed. 

Neumann describes his position as “a tool” for police officers to better do their job. While police are excellent at going into a situation and making sure everyone is safe, they are not typically equipped to work with someone undergoing a mental health crisis, as this is the job of a counselor or a crisis line operator. This is where Neumann is available to help. He can be available on the scene when needed to help the person or people get the help they need. 

The Past Two Years

Over the past two years, Neumann has helped 428 individuals, couples, or families in need of mental health services. He and the officers he’s worked with have helped to de-escalate 68 violent situations and 94 suicide attempts, saving so many lives in the process. 

When Neumann makes in-person contact with someone, he is usually accompanied by police. However, in about half of those cases, the officer is able to be cleared to return to other duties while Neumann works with the family or individual. This allows officers to continue to go about their duties while Neumann provides the help that people need. 

Over the past two years, Neumann has helped a diversity of people, helping adults during 50% of his calls, children around 30%, and families about 20% of the time. There is no one demographic that is more or less likely to need help. Mental health crisis can happen to all people of all walks of life. 

The Next Two Years

Neumann said that he has two goals for the next two years: Survive and expand. 

The grant funding the co-responder program will be up shortly, and so Neumann is hoping to be able to prove how useful the program has been in helping people so the program will be renewed in funding. Based on the positive comments he hears from the officers working with him, Neumann is fairly sure that he will be successful in keeping the program alive. 

Neumann’s second goal is to expand the program. St. Cloud, as noted previously, implemented their own co-responder program within the city, and Stearns County has also done so. Currently, there are two co-responders serving in Stearns County and one serving in St. Cloud, with the city hoping to soon fill a position for a second co-responder. 

Neumann sees the growth potential of this occupation in other nearby cities and counties, as well as across the nation. He notes the implementation of EMT programs as an example. Before the 1970s, there were no EMTs. It was when five states decided to implement EMT programs that the occupation started to actually become recognized, and EMT became a recognized position when it came to first responders. Soon after, colleges offered training courses for EMTs so those looking to serve could be properly trained. 

Neumann hopes to see co-responder similarly take off as an occupational choice, with official college training available and co-responders working in most communities. 

Neumann noted that several neighboring counties, including Mille Lacs, Benton, and Wright, were interested in setting up similar co-responder programs.