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[STAR Van]


Location: Denver, CO

Organization: Denver Alliance for Street Health Response+

Contact: dashrorg@gmail.com

The STAR service is a mobile crisis intervention in which a van carrying a mental health clinician and a paramedic is dispatched to provide free medical care, first aid, or mental health support for a broad range of non-criminal emergencies such as drug overdoses, suicidal individuals, mental illness problems, intoxication, and more.
Denver’s new Support Team Assistance Response program...sends a mental health professional and a paramedic to some 911 calls instead of police.

The STAR van handles a small fraction of the department’s annual 600,000 calls, but the department is tracking calls across the city to see how many could be handled by the STAR team if it were to expand.

The STAR program builds off the city’s co-responder program, which has paired mental health professionals with police officers since 2016 on calls where a person is suspected needing mental health services. The city’s Department of Public Health and Environment pays the Mental Health Center of Denver about $700,000 a year for its services. The co-responser program, which started with three mental health workers, is hiring to expand to 25 such professionals, DPD Chief Pazen said.

STAR’s 17 mental health professionals responded to 2,223 calls in 2019. The unarmed personnel offer confidential services and transportation, but it is not purely voluntary. (STAR currently utliizes inoluntary mental health holds.)

During STAR’s six-month pilot program, the van operated between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday in central downtown and along South Broadway.

The pilot program was paid for by a grant from Caring for Denver, a pot of money for initiatives to address mental health and substance abuse collected through a sales tax. The foundation managing the money awarded $208,141 to launch the STAR program.

Since the June 1, 2021 start date, the civilian team handled close to six incidents a day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, in high-demand neighborhoods. STAR does not yet have enough people or vans to respond to every nonviolent incident, but about 3 percent of calls for DPD service, or over 2,500 incidents, were worthy of the alternative approach, according to the report.

In the first six months of the STAR program, no one they encountered was arrested. The program structure, funding, and functions continue to evolve rapidly. You can read more about the model in Interrupting Criminalization’s Guide to Alternative Mental Health Crisis Responses.

Excerpted From: Call police for a woman who is changing clothes in an alley? A new program in Denver sends mental health professionals instead, Elise Schmelzer, The Denver Post, September 6, 2020

In the first six months of health care professionals replacing police officers, no one they encountered was arrested, David Sachs, Denverite, February 2, 2021

Press Release: DJP Helps Launch Alternative Public Health Emergency Response Pilot In Denver, Denver Justice Project, June 8, 2020