Denver 911 operators earlier directed the calls to either the police or fire department but its now including a new track — a medic and a clinician.
Getting health care workers to respond to some emergency calls is working wonders in Denver. Traditionally, law enforcement officers have responded to all emergency calls, with Denver 911 operators directing the calls to either the police or fire department as first responders. A new pilot program by Support Team Assistance Response (STAR) directs emergency calls to a third track — a two-person team including a medic and a clinician. They respond in a van from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. The pilot program was launched in June and has recorded promising results in its six-month progress report, reported Yahoo News. The program aims to provide a "person-centric mobile crisis response" to people who are experiencing problems related to mental health, depression, poverty, homelessness, or substance abuse issues.
Denver is one of many cities in America that are experimenting with an alternative emergency responder model to help people facing mental health crises. This comes on the back of calls for defunding the cops and diverting resources to the community in manners such as this. Way too many police officers have been trigger friendly with those experiencing mental health crises. According to The Washington Post, on-duty police officers have fatally shot 1,400 people with mental illnesses since 2015. The pilot program comes in response to a year that saw the Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of Black people being killed by cops for no valid reason. Among those who experienced mental health crises, and were killed by cops, were Daniel Prude in Rochester, New York, and Walter Wallace, Jr. in Philadelphia. Such extreme responses to mental health problems urged BLM protesters to call for redirecting police funding away from police departments.
As per the report, Denver received more than 2,500 emergency calls that fell into the criteria designed for the STAR program, with the team responding to 748 such calls. In all cases, the team didn't need to call the assistance of cops, and no one was arrested. During the six-months the pilot program was active, the Denver police responded to nearly 95,000 incidents. As per the report, an expanded STAR program could reduce police calls by nearly 3%. "Overall, the first six months has kind of been a proof of concept of what we wanted," said Vinnie Cervantes, a member of the Denver Alliance for Street Health Response, one of the organizations involved with the STAR program. "We've continued to try to work to make it something that is truly a community-city partnership.
As per data collected as part of the program, the calls were focused in certain areas of the city and were centered around cases involving trespassing and welfare checks. Approximately 68% of people contacted were experiencing homelessness, and cases with mental health concerns formed 61% of cases. Mental health-related calls were mostly related to schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder, with 33% of people having co-occurring conditions, said the report.
The Denver program is modeled after the Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS) in Eugene, Oregon. CAHOOTS focussed on mental health-related crises and relies on techniques that are focused on harm reduction. The results of the six-month pilot have been positive and the city is responding by allocating allocated $1.4 million in the city's budget to continue the STAR program, according to the report. Vinnie Cervantes, a member of the Denver Alliance for Street Health Response, wants the program to incorporate crucial data that will help better the program. "How do we really understand the impact of the most marginalized communities in Denver if we don’t have the data there?" asked Cervantes. The STAR program also had to adapt to the Coronavirus pandemic. The STAR program is organized through a coalition of city agencies and organizations, including the Denver Police Department, Denver Health Paramedic Division, Denver 911, the Caring for Denver Foundation, the Mental Health Center of Denver, and community supporters.