DENVER — As those with the Denver Park Rangers do their patrols through city parks and trails, they have one goal.
"Denver park rangers are responsible for keeping the parks safe for the people for the parks and keeping people safe," said Senior Park Ranger Corey Beaton.
That typically means enforcing rules and writing tickets, but oftentimes, the situations they handle are more complicated than that.
"It might be easy to see someone who's camping illegally in the park and say, "Oh, I want to call the police and have them move right away,"'' said Tom Kaiser, a mental health clinician with WellPower. "That person has a story. That person has a lot of systems and experiences that have failed them in the past, and that's why they've gotten to that point."
For about a month, he and another clinician have been working alongside the rangers.
It's a new partnership made possible by a $2,814,120 grant from the Caring for Denver Foundation that continued WellPower's co-responder partnership with the Denver Police Department, but also expanded the program to bring on three more clinicians for the Denver Fire Department and Denver Park Rangers.
"[Rangers] come into contact with so many members of the community who are in crisis or are in need of resources. Having a mental health clinician directly out there in the field with them allows us to offer resources right where people are at and get them the help they need," said Kaiser.
Often times the interactions are delicate when rangers interact with vulnerable people who might need support and connection to certain services. Some of those people haven't had the most positive experiences with people in uniform. Rangers say having the clinicians help bridge that gap.
"Sometimes people just want somebody to talk to. It's a lot easier to talk to the co-responder than somebody with a badge," said Beaton.
Rangers told Denver7 there's been a noticeable difference while out on patrol now.
"It kind of shows that Denver's trying to take a step forward and lead the way in giving help in whatever way these people might need it," said Beaton.
"It's really, really important to keep that perspective as a community and as a larger city so we can actually start to heal a lot of these bigger problems and not just be punitive and push them away," said Kaiser.
The program aims to be a compassion-minded response for those in the city who need it most.
The co-responders will join rangers on patrol Sunday through Friday from 7 a.m. through 7 p.m.
WellPower launched the co-responder program in 2016. Now, there are more than 40 co-responders working with Denver PD, Denver Fire, Auraria Campus Police and RTD.