DENVER — A program that replaces police officers with health care workers on mental health and substance abuse calls in Denver, Colorado, is showing signs of success, according to a six-month progress report. Despite responding to hundreds of calls, the workers made no arrests, the report said — and the city’s police chief told CBS News on Friday that he believes the program “saves lives.”
Under the Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) program, health care workers are dispatched in lieu of police when responding to incidents involving issues with mental health, poverty, homelessness or substance abuse. STAR providers only respond to incidents in which there is no evidence of criminal activity, disturbance, weapons, threats, violence, injuries or “serious” medical needs, CBS News reported.
During the first six months of the program, from June 1 to November 30, health professionals responded to 748 calls, including trespassing, welfare checks, narcotic incidents, and mental health episodes, according to the report. None of those cases required help from Denver police and no individuals were arrested.
It is unclear how they define “criminal activity” since both trespassing and narcotic activity are criminal in nature.
Nevertheless, Chief Paul Pazen told CBS News that all of those calls were a success.
“That’s 748 times fewer that the police department was called, meaning we can free up law enforcement to do what law enforcement is supposed to do, and really what law enforcement is good at, and that is addressing crime issues, violent crime, property crime and traffic safety,” he said. “…You have a safer community and you have better outcomes for people in crisis.”
Pazen recalled one case in which an individual was complaining of their feet hurting. Under typical circumstances, Pazen said, an ambulance, police and maybe a firetruck would have been dispatched to the scene. Instead, workers equipped with food, water, and hygiene products handled the situation.
“They needed shoes, so [the STAR] team just bought the guy a new pair of shoes,” Pazen said. “The typical answer to that would have been to take that person to the hospital. Imagine what that would have cost in response. Imagine what that would have cost in medical bills, for the physician to say the guy needs a new pair of shoes.”