Denver STAR program expands with $1.4 million contract

by Mike Creef, Staff Writer
Denver STAR program expands with $1.4 million contract
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Since its inception almost two years ago, Denver’s STAR program, Support Team Assistance Response program, has responded to thousands of mental health crisis calls instead of police officers.

The program started off with a single van and a two-person team made up of an emergency medical technician and a behavioral health clinician. A STAR team would be dispatched to low risk calls where individuals dealing with low level behavioral health crises and issues needed attention.

A recent Denver City Council vote has unanimously approved a $1.4 million contract for the program to continue and expand. 

According to their website, with the $1.4 million contract, the STAR program will be able to: purchase five additional vans, hire seven clinicians from the Mental Health Center of Denver(MHCD), hire four paramedics and two emergency medical technicians.

“These programs can and do work, you just have to work through the logistics and the buy-in,” said Chris Richardson, associate director of criminal justice services at MHCD.

Denver STAR program a success

The city has rapidly expanded the program’s budget from the $208,141 in grant money spent to launch a six-month pilot program in June 2020 to the $3.9 million allotted in the 2022 budget.

A big reason for the program’s expansion is the fact that STAR has responded to over 2,200 calls for service that would have otherwise been dispatched to police, and has never called for police back up due to a safety issue, even with STAR workers being unarmed.

“STAR is an example of a program that has worked for those it has had contact with,” Councilwoman Robin Kniech said Monday before the council approved the contract. “It is minimizing unnecessary arrests and unnecessary costs — whether that be jail costs or emergency room costs. It has done so for less than 1% of the calls coming into the city that it might be eligible for. It matters that we’re scaling it up.”

Cities across the country have looked at implementing similar response teams to help alleviate the workload on law enforcement by not having them respond to calls where they are not needed.

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