STAR responders

Carleigh Sailon, a clinician with the Mental Health Center of Denver, and Dustin Yancy, a Denver Health paramedic, work as responders for the Support Team Assisted Response program. STAR provides an alternative to police responses to low-level, nonviolent situations, and responders can connect people with long-term crisis services.

Denver’s City Council on Monday night voted to add $1 million in general fund money to the city’s Support Team Assisted Response program that sends pairs of paramedics and case workers instead of police to nonviolent calls.

District 10 Councilmember Chris Hinds said the boost in funding will allow the STAR program to expand across Denver. He said his office has gotten a flood of positive feedback about the program.

“I think that this is a great move for our city, for our unhoused neighbors, and for our housed neighbors. We should be putting more funding [into] treatment of causes to issues in our city, and STAR is one of those programs, including sending addiction and mental health counselors to calls that require that specialized training.”

A report released last winter evaluating the program’s first six months found that the more than 700 calls the STAR team responded to did not lead to arrests or require a police officer response. The pilot phase of the program ran through May this year.

Police and the community organizations involved with STAR’s implementation and operations cheered the early success of STAR, but also have said the program needs to be viewed as one piece of a broader goal of increasing resources for long-term crisis services — such as mental health care, substance use treatment and housing services — to address the issues that put people in crisis and prompted a 911 call in the first place.

Vinnie Cervantes, the organizing director of the Denver Alliance for Street Health Response who participated in the STAR program’s evaluation, told The Denver Gazette last winter that tracking the number of times responders connect a person to long-term services such as mental health or substance use treatment is a key metric for measuring STAR’s long-term success.

The extra funding approved by City Council on Monday evening will flow through the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment.