By Jeff Todd

DENVER (CBS4) – A program that started out as just a pilot is now showing it is so successful that other cities are hoping to copy Denver. The STAR program was started last year as a way for a mental health professional and a paramedic to respond to low-level calls instead of a police officer.

(credit: STAR Program)

“These programs work really well as a force multiplier for police and a way to provide the right response when someone calls 911 in Denver,” said Carleigh Sailon the Star Operations Manager.

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On Thursday, a contingent of lawmakers from Missouri was in Denver looking at how the STAR program is run.

“Congresswoman (Cori) Bush and I are laser-focused on finding alternative ways to finding our citizens,” said St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones. “I wanted to see a response model that did not involve officers and see how that was set up. This is an alternate response unit that is smaller than your big fire trucks and large ambulances. Not only are police onboard but fire and EMS are all onboard with knowing what is the right response to the right call.”

(credit: CBS)

STAR has gained recognition for responding to 1,300 calls over the past six months and never needing to call for a police officer for backup. Sailon says it’s about the mentality of the STAR team as they respond to specific calls.

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“I think it is having the right people in this van that can just low-key show up and say, ‘Hey, how are you? I’m a social worker. How can I help you today? What would make your day better? Just being able to think on your feet and creatively solve those problems. And being non-judgmental and friendly and supplying people with a bottle of water goes a long way.”

Denver recently gave more funding to the STAR program to increase the number of teams. The money will allow longer hours, responses seven days a week, and cover more of the city.

(credit: CBS)

“This is now a new muscle within their public safety department,” said Mayor Jones.

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“This is the population the staff on the STAR van wants to work with. And these really are people and we’re happy to go out and serve them and provide water or a ride to a shelter or more high-level crisis intervention if that is necessary,” Sailon said.

Jeff Todd