By Jennifer McRae

DENVER (CBS4) – The program that started out as just a pilot is expanding. The Support Team Assisted Response or 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)

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STAR is an alternative 911 response program to those who are experiencing mental health, depression, poverty, homelessness and/or substance misuse challenges. The program has had a successful one-year pilot.

The STAR team is trained to de-escalate situations and connect individuals in distress with appropriate services. In partnership with the Mental Health Center of Denver, Denver Health Paramedic Division, and the Denver Department of Public Safety, DDPHE will expand the program to respond to calls city-wide between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. seven days per week.

So far, the program has completed more than 1,600 calls since June 2020, and 33% of those calls involved a transport to a support option in the community like a shelter or detox.

(credit: CBS)

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Mental health treatment was recommended in 27% of the calls and 7% of those were reconnected to care. The average call time was less than a half-hour, about 5 minutes faster than a typical police response on the same type of call.

“We know that alternative response works. It works at getting people the help they truly need, and it works at keeping our officers focused on preventing crime. It’s a fundamental issue of equity in the pursuit of justice,” Mayor Michael B. Hancock said in a statement. “Denver has also become a national leader in alternative police response, and we’re committed to staying on this path.”

(credit: CBS)

The STAR expansion will receive $1 million from the City’s supplemental fund, approved by City Council in July, and $1.4 million from the Caring For Denver Foundation, awarded earlier this month, in addition to the originally budgeted $1.4 million in the 2021 budget.

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“The STAR pilot has been successful at delivering behavioral health services to people in need,” said Bob McDonald, DDPHE Executive Director and Public Health Administrator for the City of Denver, in a statement. “This innovative approach – meeting people where they are, with the right services, at the right time – is a game-changer for Denver. We are excited to expand these services throughout the City.”

Jennifer McRae