As calls for police reform spread across the country this summer, many cities stepped up to reallocate police funding to social programs to address systemic police violence and racism. One of these cities is Denver, Colorado. The city’s Support Team Assistance Response (STAR) program sends a mental health professional and paramedic to non-criminal 911 calls and so far they have successfully responded to 350 calls.
The STAR program began June 1, four days after protests demanding justice for George Floyd started in the city, with the goal of serving non-dangerous citizens in need while freeing up police to respond to other incidents. The team is unarmed and so far, they have not had to call for police back up on a single call.
Vinnie Cervantes with Denver Alliance for Street Health Response told the Denver Post, “We’re really trying to create true alternatives to us using police and jails.”
The team has addressed a wide range of community concerns. One woman who was reported for indecent exposure was changing in an alleyway because she was unhoused and had nowhere else to go. The team helped connect her to city resources and local shelters. They’ve been dispatched to help with suicidal individuals, situations of substance abuse, and the mentally ill. When the team was called to respond to a woman in distress sitting on a curb downtown, the team assessed that she was unhoused, overheated, and had gotten lost in an unfamiliar part of the city. They gave her water, a snack, and offered her a ride to somewhere she could find shelter.
The STAR program is an expansion of the city’s co-responder program which has been pairing mental health professionals with police officers since 2016. Last year, the program responded to 2,223 calls.
Currently, STAR is being funded by a grant from Caring for Denver, collected money set aside for initiatives to address mental health and substance abuse. Eventually, the program hopes to fund itself with tax revenue as it expands its services.
This program is a perfect example of successfully reallocating public funds to offer services, rather than policing, to those in need and improve community health and wellness. When we think about alternatives to policing, it can be difficult to know where to start. Cities like Denver are providing a roadmap for community safety options that really work.
Image source: Mental Health Center of Denver