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Instead of Responding With Cops, Denver Sends Health Care Teams to Non-Criminal Calls — and It’s Already Saving Lives


A pilot program in which teams of social workers and paramedics respond to certain non-criminal complaints in Denver is showing early success.

Denver Police Department

The Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) program was launched in June to help ensure vulnerable people get the help they need.

Over the course of six months, mobile teams of STAR healthcare workers instead of police officers responded to 748 calls related to low-level incidents, such as a mental health crisis.

Six months after its inception, the first STAR progress report has been released, and shows the innovative program is working.

According to Denver Police Department (DPD) Chief Paul Pazen, none of these low-level calls resulted in arrests or incarceration, and no police officer needed to be called to the scene. “This is a good thing, it’s a great show and basically the report tells us what we believed in,” Pazen said. The Denverite.

Foundation for success

The majority of the STAR eligible calls were for spam / burglary, welfare checks and uniformed officers requesting assistance with ongoing matters.

In fact, of all the incidents that STAR responded to, 34% were calls for assistance from officers who were already involved in an incident, which DPD program member and strategic initiatives coordinator Dr. Matthew Lunn says Which is a good sign: It means police officers believe in the program and want to use it.

“I think it shows how much officers are buying into this, realizing that these people need a focused level of care,” said Lunn, author of the report.

In fact, 61% of those found by STAR were identified as having perhaps a mental health problem based on initial contact and behavioral assessment, and 33% also had co-occurring conditions, such as homelessness or abuse of substances.

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Lessons learned suggested that the STAR van should be stocked with more supplies, especially blankets, clothing, cleaning supplies, and food, allowing the team to quickly address immediate issues.

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The City of Denver has allocated $ 1.4 million to expand the service, and the Caring for Denver Foundation has matched those funds. This will help the program expand to have multiple vans supplied, with enough professionals to work 8-hour shifts that cover all hours of the week.

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“I want the police department to focus on police matters,” Pazen said. The Denverite. “We have more than enough work on violent crime, property crime, and traffic safety, and if something like STAR or any other support system can ease the burden of mental health service calls, service calls for substance abuse and level problems, which frees up law enforcement agencies to address criminal problems. “

Given the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, it seems likely that a growing number of police departments worldwide He will follow in Denver’s footsteps, looking inward to see what can be done to improve the relationship between its officers and their communities, so that everyone feels safe.

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