Mental Health Team Handling 911 Calls In Denver Wraps Up Six Months With Dozens Of People Helped, Zero People Arrested

from the more-people-alive,-unbeaten,-and-unjailed dept

In June of last year — as protests over police brutality occurred all over the nation — Denver, Colorado rolled out a program that combined common sense with a slight “defunding” of its police department. It decided calls that might be better handled by social workers and mental health professionals should be handled by… social workers and mental health professionals.

The city’s STAR (Support Team Assistance Response) team was given the power to handle 911 calls that didn’t appear to deal with criminal issues. Calls related to mental health or social issues were routed to STAR, allowing cops to handle actual crime and allowing people in crisis to avoid having to deal with people who tend to treat every problem like a crime problem.

In its first three months, STAR handled 350 calls — only a very small percentage of 911 calls. But the immediate developments appeared positive. A supposed indecent exposure call handled by STAR turned out to be a homeless woman changing clothes in an alley. A trespassing call turned out to be another homeless person setting up a tent near some homes. Suicidal persons were helped and taken to care centers. Homeless residents were taken to shelters. No one was arrested. No one was beaten, tased, or shot.

The zero arrests streak continues. STAR has released its six-month report [PDF] and the calls it has handled have yet to result in an arrest, strongly suggesting police officers aren’t the best personnel to handle crises like these — unless the desired result is more people in holding cells.

Granted, this is a very limited data set. At this point, STAR only has enough funding to support one van to handle calls during normal business hours: Monday-Friday from 10 am to 6 pm. Despite these limitations, the team handled 748 calls (about six calls per shift). Roughly a third of the calls handled came from police officers themselves, who requested STAR respond to an incident/call.

Not only did none of the 748 calls result in an arrest, but STAR got things under control faster than law enforcement officers.

The median STAR response required 24.65 minutes of on-scene personnel time to resolve the call compared to 34.08 minutes for a traditional response.

And things should continue to improve once STAR is given a bit more funding to work with.

The City and County of Denver has identified approximately $1.4 million in the general fund to support the STAR program in 2021. If we use the current budget estimates for the cost of purchasing and outfitting additional vans and hiring additional medics and mental health clinicians to staff the expanded units, we believe the City could move forward with the purchase of four vans and six teams (one medic and one clinician) to staff alternating schedules seven days a week. This will allow for coverage during the times of day when there would be the call load to support the units based on our pilot data and the hours with which most providers would be available for a warm hand-off of individuals.

This is a positive move forward for Denver and it’s something that can scale and be replicated by other cities. One of STAR’s goals was to “divert individuals away from the criminal justice system” and it has definitely accomplished that. Not every 911 call requires a law enforcement response. It makes the most sense to send people with the best set of skills to handle these calls, rather than the people who just have the most weapons.

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Comments on “Mental Health Team Handling 911 Calls In Denver Wraps Up Six Months With Dozens Of People Helped, Zero People Arrested”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: O.M.G.!

the defund the police slogan describes a policy org reallocating police department funds toward more effective ways of handling of social issues currently handled by police.

This program was funded by reducing the police budget, in other words defunding the police department.

Samuel’s statement is entirely consistent with the purpose of the #defundthepolice slogan and movement.

takitus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: O.M.G.!

It makes sense to me that the goals behind the "defund the police" slogan align with the project Tim describes. I think, however, that the slogan (and the comment above) focus on a negative and less important objective–defunding police departments–rather than the more difficult, positive work of finding better alternatives. The positive goals, I think, also have broader appeal, and carry an attitude of hope and community development. We’ve got an encouraging example of this in Denver.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2

“Defund the police” is a catchier, easier-to-remember slogan than “allocate funds away from the police and give them to social programs designed to help people with mental health issues”. You’re so busy criticizing the messengers that you’re not listening to the message.

And while it’s nice to think in terms of positive goals, but at some point positivity and feel-good bullshit must give way to reality. The reality is that a significant number of police departments, like the U.S. military, receive an inordinate amount of money compared to other government-funded programs/services. When funding the police becomes more important than funding schools and roads and programs like STAR, defunding the police becomes a positive goal — in that lowering funding for them means raising funding for those other programs.

Stop whining about the slogan. It won’t do anything but boost your own sense of smug self-satisfaction at being “smarter” than the people who use that slogan. You’re not helping anyone advance any goals by bitching about “defund the police”. If anything, you’re contributing to the kind of division that the police want to foment so they can keep all their goddamn funding to themselves.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4

The “nastiness” — nice tone policing, by the way — comes from the critique of “defund the police” as “too negative”…or, as you might put it now, “too nasty”. I say this to you: Who gives a fuck?

A significant number of people who use “defund the police” or promote the overall goals of that movement are more likely to be victims of police violence. They have to deal with police and courts seeing them as subhuman, as inherently criminal, as not worthy of the kind of treatment you see given to people like Some Assholes who shoot up Black churches or walk past police unharmed after murdering three people. And you want to call them, and their message, “too negative”?

If I took sucker bets, I’d bet a shitload of money that you’re one of those “All Lives Matter” assholes because you think “Black Lives Matter” is “too divisive”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: O.M.G.!

Of course it does, especially when you consider the appropriate buzz-wordy term is probably something more like "right-funding the emergency services". Then you shouldn’t have to be arguing all the time with people who think that the police won’t get anything at all and crime will run rampant. (Of course there will always be some people who will argue, but …)

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That One Guy (profile) says:

'What do you mean 'not every perp needs a beating'?'

When all you have is violence every problem looks like something to inflict it on, good on the city for realizing that not every problem needs a violent response and hopefully they’ll see the initial success of the program and expand it out to be able to handle more as time passes.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Agreed. I think it makes sense though from a purely selfish standpoint for the police. How many police officers really want to handle someone who is homeless, mentally ill, etc.? I would imagine most of them don’t have the patience or desire to deal with it so it makes sense they’d want to hand that unpleasant part of their job off to someone else.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The whole tough on crime, law ‘n order are tired and useless lies told to the voting public who seems to be rather gullible.

I wonder how gullible the public will be in two years, will they remember that the GOP tried to take over our government and the loss of life was of little concern to them. Only seven GOP senators had the self respect to vote to convict.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

"I wonder how gullible the public will be in two years, will they remember that the GOP tried to take over our government and the loss of life was of little concern to them."

Unfortunately, given US history…I’d give good odds both the democrats and 2/3 of the US citizenry in general will do their damnedest best to roll over and fall asleep again right after they’re done singing "ding dong, the witch is dead". The only ones likely to remember this time will be the 73 million americans who voted for the white supremacist and are hoping for another one to emerge.

That’s why, in the end, the US struggle against authoritarianism is doomed to fail. The good guys win almost every battle but since they can’t be arsed to follow through they’ll end up losing the war. The dems will be right back begging for "bipartisan" compromises about how racist and unfair the system should be rather than putting their foot down and saying Not At All.

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