WellPower Launches Nation’s First Co-Responder Program with Denver Park Rangers

In December 2022, WellPower co-responders joined Denver Park Rangers to offer mental health/substance use clinical support in Denver city parks. This new partnership, the nation’s first park ranger and co-responder pairing, was created in response to the increase in vulnerable, unhoused people in parks who need support and connection to services.

Co-responders are mental health counselors with special training in de-escalation and crisis support. WellPower, Denver’s community mental health provider, launched its co-responder program in 2016 with three clinicians working in a single police district. Today, there are more than 40 co-responders working with Denver Police, Denver Fire, Auraria Campus Police and RTD. These efforts are producing paradigm-shift results in public safety and connect people to care when they need it most.

Caronia DiStefano, park ranger, and Kayla Bauer, WellPower clinician, assess a behavioral health situation in Denver.

Denver Park Rangers are part of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. The park rangers act with compassion while enforcing park rules; their priorities are public safety and resource protection through rule enforcement.

The idea for pairing co-responders with park rangers resulted from several incidents where park ranger requests for assistance were answered by a police and co-responder pairing or WellPower’s STAR van. After several collaborations, one park ranger suggested making co-responders a designated part of the park ranger force. In September 2022, Denver City Council voted to approve the addition of two WellPower co-responders to work with the city’s team of approximately 40-unarmed park rangers.

“Park rangers are compassionate and care about the people who use our parks,” said Jodie Marozas, district park ranger supervisor. “We developed a violation management system that is administrative – not criminal – with the goal of ultimately gaining compliance with park rules, deescalating conflicts, and protecting our park resources. Now with co-responders alongside us, we can offer immediate care to people who may be experiencing a mental health or addiction issue or are unhoused and in need of services.”

From L to R: Andrew Karras, Kayla Bauer and Caronia DiStefano are the nation’s first park ranger co-responder team.

Chris Richardson, LCSW, who oversees WellPower’s co-responder program, agrees. “Park rangers and co-responders are in alignment that longer-term, evidenced-based solutions are the best way to help people and protect the parks. Just enforcing park curfews doesn’t solve the problem, and we commend the rangers for wanting to work together to provide trauma-informed solutions that can truly help the people seeking refuge in city parks.”

WellPower co-responders work alongside park rangers Tuesdays – Sundays, from 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.