By Karen Morfitt

DENVER (CBS4) – Denver police are developing a pilot program that would dispatch civilian teams to certain 911 calls. Instead of a police officer, a team of mental health workers and medics would respond.

(credit: CBS)

Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen says when it comes to crisis calls that do not involve a weapon or threat to other community members police may not always be the best response.

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“If we have a team of dedicated individuals with those types of backgrounds, we feel like we can have a positive impact on our most vulnerable population,” Chief Pazen said.

(credit: CBS)

Denver would use a program already in use in Eugene, Oregon as a model. It is called Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets or CAHOOTS.

Denver Alliance for Street Health Response Director Vinnie Cervantes was among those in the community invited to Oregon to see how it works.

(credit: CBS)

“They are trying to have not as many situations where law enforcement is the response and rather a community-based response is the answer for it,” he said.

A mental health worker and medic are paired together and then can be dispatched to calls related to the homeless, mental health and substance abuse.

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(credit: CBS)

Cervantes says it not only strengthens the relationship between community and law enforcement, but also alleviates some of the workload.

“There’s a lot going on that they are addressing. This kind of removes it from their overall load,” he said.

Pazen says determining the threshold for those calls will be a balance. He is hoping to have as much input form community groups as possible to ensure a successful rollout.

“If we can get a greater collection of folks or take a different perspective, a different angle at this we believe we can be even more effective than where we are,” he said.

Paul Pazen (credit: CBS)

While the program is still being developed, Pazen says it’s likely these would be paid positions and funding would come from a variety of areas, one being the recently passed Caring For Denver ballot initiative that increased the city sales tax.

As far as when the civilian team would be put into action, there is no clear timeline.

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“We want this done right and we also recognize that there is a need right now, we are going to be working as quickly as possible to get this up,” Pazen said.

Karen Morfitt