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.

“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.

(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.

“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

Comments (14)
  1. Maura Gallagher says:

    Find a better name than “CAHOOTS”, it implies deception.

  2. Jack Inmanz says:

    “Check the ammo, Maw. We’ve got a job to do”.

  3. Will probably be fine. Would probably be fine if private citizens responded to dangerous cases too. Bad guys may find out that getting surrounded by a bunch of law abiders is a problem for them.

  4. “funding”
    “Caring For Denver ballot initiative”
    “increased the city sales tax.”

    It’s a scam, folks!

  5. I am a RN with years nursing experience in mental health and substance abuse. Here is my perspective based on experience on a mobile crisis unit. The unit consists of a nurse and seasoned, crisis intervention trained, police officer. Experience, coupled with community and commitment makes an effective program. Establishing trust in both the community and among patrol officers is effective in preventing escalation of many crisis situations. With trust, people call, and the unit is dispatched, before things get out of hand. Education, provided by the unit, within the department and the community often prevent a crisis from developing in the first place. Nurses and police benefit from shared experience in crisis management. The nurse/officer team lead (informally in our program) police and treatment facility staff to a better understanding of each other’s responsibilities and perspective. In the end, patients and the community benefit. A community police/nursing combination works.

  6. Paull Cudak says:

    So now they want to put citizens lives directly in danger instead of the lawmakers doing what they should have done decades ago making it difficult to reside within the area. Instead they open it up as a sanctuary but have no idea what that means. It means you need to TAX the law abiding people more because you now have drifters, grifters, lay-a-bouts. mentally deranged, disease infested trash and waste Human and the humans themselves that you have to support, clean up after and say to the public which you are lying through your teeth that it is a safe community.
    Feed the pigeons and you’ll get more pigeons, feed the rats and you get infestations

  7. Robbie Carroll says:

    When do we get guns, I want guns!

  8. RF Burns says:

    The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

  9. Robert Phelan says:

    Wait till a few get shot and killed at domestic calls and this pilot will quietly go away.

    1. Bernard Wilrise says:

      People will have a much different attitude when dealing with unarmed medical workers, they wont be so nervous and scared of being raped or murdered like we are around modern local beat cops.

      1. Scattergood Baines says:

        Yes, the homeless are so docile.😆

  10. Well- in simpler times this may have been a great idea. Sadly the world is now a dangerous place and speaking as an ex-paramedic who spent 20+ years working in the inner city I can say with a great degree of certainty that almost every 911 call “related to the homeless, mental health and substance abuse” requires the presence of a police officer. Sometimes two or three of them.

  11. Jim Thomas says:

    “Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets or CAHOOTS.” Government will accept the most asinine program title to get a cute acronym.

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