Denver to expand STAR program for responding to mental health 911 calls

KDVR Fox 31 News

By Lanie Lee Cook

DENVER (KDVR) — A year-old Denver program that removes police from some 911 calls involving mental health or substance use will be expanded to seven days a week.

The Support Team Assisted Response program — STAR for short — responds to certain 911 calls with a paramedic and a mental health clinician who are trained to de-escalate situations and to connect people with services that can help them.

“We’re excited to be a part of a team that provides resource options to help keep those experiencing behavioral health events from unnecessary pathways through the criminal justice system or the emergency department,” said Dave Edwards, Denver Health Paramedic Division assistant director of clinical performance. “We’re redefining solutions for these events and people to truly address their underlying needs.”COVID-19 mental health impacts could linger post-pandemic

The program will now be expanded to the entire city, seven days a week between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

The Mental Health Center of Denver is now hiring licensed clinicians to support the expansion.

“The intent of STAR is to send the right response, not a one-size-fits-all response,” said Chris Richardson, the Mental Health Center of Denver’s associate director of criminal justice. “People call 911 for an array of reasons and it’s not always something that involves risk or a criminal element. If the STAR van can help someone in crisis and that frees up police to handle a robbery or domestic violence call, then that’s an incredible success.”

Denver City Council in July approved $1 million from the city’s supplemental fund to expand the program. Another $1.4 million comes from the Caring for Denver Foundation, which is funded by a 2018 voter-approved 0.25% sales tax raise to address issues with mental health and addiction.Substance abuse puts Colorado at bottom of mental health rankings

1,400 calls: no arrests, no injuries, no police

The year-old pilot version of the STAR program started in June 2020 and focused on calls in downtown Denver five days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

In its first year, STAR handled 1,400 emergency calls, of which there were zero arrests, no injuries and no need for police backup, according to DDPHE.

DDPHE said these are some of the program’s statistics to date:

  • “Over 1600 calls completed”
  • “33% of calls involved a transport to a support option in the community such as a shelter, organization, walk-in center, detox, etc.”
  • “Mental health treatment was recommended to 27% of contacts and 7% of contacts were reconnected to care”
  • “Average call time was 29 minutes, which is 5 minutes faster than a typical police response on the same type of call”
  • “Approximately 30% of the calls handled by the STAR pilot were referred by police who arrived first on the scene and called to request STAR to handle the situation”

How to call the STAR program

In addition to connecting with STAR via 911, Denver residents can request STAR by calling 720-913-7827 (STAR) or by calling the non-emergency number, 720-913-2000.