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.