Medic, clinician answer mental health calls in pilot program

Instead of sending armed police officers, the goal of the six-month pilot program aims for de-escalation and support using mental health professionals

By Laura French

DENVER — A pilot program that launched this month in Denver has a paramedic and clinician respond to some mental health 911 calls instead of law enforcement. 

The Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) program will last for six months and aims to provide support for those experiencing mental health crises, according to KDVR. Part of the goal is to de-escalate situations by sending an unarmed paramedic and mental health professional rather than armed police officers.

Rohan Bliss with the Denver Justice Project said STAR has been in the works with support from his group for more than a year, but noted that the launch of the program coincides with growing calls for police reform following the killing of George Floyd and subsequent civil unrest. 

"This is another step toward real solution[s] for public health and safety issues away from coercive law enforcement," Bliss told KDVR. 

STAR is funded through the Caring for Denver Foundation, which is supported by a 2018 ballot initiative that supports mental health and substance abuse programs. The program is modeled after the CAHOOTS program in Eugene, Oregon.

Carleigh Sailon of Mental Health Centers of Denver said the STAR team has already responded to several calls, and police officers can request that dispatchers send STAR. 

The Denver Police Department already responds to some calls with a mental health counselor, but the STAR program takes law enforcement out of some calls altogether, Sailon said. 

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