Denver expands STAR program; St. Louis wants to launch their own

The city of Denver, Colorado is expanding their Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) Program after a successful pilot in 2020. More funding is budgeted to increase the number of teams, provide staffing for longer hours per day, seven days a week, and cover more of the city.

The STAR program sends teams of EMTs and Behavioral Health Clinicians to “engage individuals experiencing crises related to mental health issues, poverty, homelessness, and substance abuse.”

Last week St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones and U.S. Rep. Cori Bush visited Denver to learn more about STAR. “I wanted to see a response model that did not involve officers and see how that was set up,” Mayor Jones said.

The Denver police chief is clear about the goals for STAR:

Denver Police Chief Paul M. Pazen

Denver’s initiative … eliminates the police response to a call or having officers as backup. “The goal of the program was to get a better outcome for these calls,” Denver police Chief Paul Pazen told the [St. Louis] Post-Dispatch on Friday. “This is not a ‘defund the police’ type of program. This is an ‘and’ to police, not an ‘or.’ This is enhancing the type of responses to get a better outcomes and free up emergency services and law enforcement.

Congresswoman Cori Bush introduces People’s Response Act to Transform Public Safety

U.S. Representative Cori Bush (D-MO) was joined by Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) in introducing  the People’s Response Act

“Public safety is a public health issue. It’s time our approach reflects that,” said Rep. Cori Bush. “The People’s Response Act will transform public safety into a system of care rather than criminalization, healing rather than incarceration, and prevention rather than policing. We are safer when our communities are well funded, our people are healthy and housed, and our children have nutritious meals, excellent schools, and green spaces to play in.”

H.R. 4194 is co-sponsored by 20 Congress members so far, including Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR). It is endorsed by over 70 organizations, including the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, Sunrise Movement, and others.

This is the 2nd piece of national legislation that would mandate using non-police first responders for mental health crises. Senator Wyden (D-OR) introduced the CAHOOTS Act last year. S. 4441 is co-sponsored by Sen. Merkley (D-OR) and 2 others.

San Francisco has a new initiative to take police out of the homelessness response

Excerpts from The Guardian, Thu 29 Apr 2021 11.00 EDT:

Community leaders developed a proposal that would reroute all calls regarding homeless issues to the Compassionate Alternate Response Team (CART), highly trained civilians tasked with de-escalation and conflict resolution through each situation.

Proponents of CART estimate that the team would cost San Francisco $6.8m a year. The Board of Supervisors has already approved $2m. The other $4.8m would come from the police department’s budget.

Read the full article here.

Demand that the police union release its grip on Portland Street Response

Write city council members and the Portland Police Association (PPA) demanding that PPA cede any claims on Portland Street Response labor. This is not police work.

We need to make these demands because the pilot program for Portland Street Response only launched after the police union allowed it, declaring last year that it “retains its collective bargaining rights over any implementation of the Portland Street Response program beyond the pilot program.”

Send letters or make calls to make these demands clear. Please let both PPA and City Council know that our community overwhelmingly supports the Portland Street Response approach, and that our community’s well-being should never be a bargaining chip. Now the PPA is in contract negotiations, the city must hold firm to its authority over the future of PSR.

Additionally, Portland Street Response must not be used as another bargaining chip for PPA. Unite Oregon is helping lead a campaign to ensure other items favored by the community, such as the new system for oversight that voters approved, are not negotiated away. Read about it here.

Contact information for the police union:

Portland Police Association

Contact information for City Council:

Mayor Ted Wheeler

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty

Commissioner Mingus Mapps

Commissioner Carmen Rubio

Commissioner Dan Ryan

Survey of Portland voters shows stunning support for non-police first responders to street crises

Street Roots commissioned a survey with McKelvey Consulting to assess the public perceptions around crises response in the Portland metro area. More than 400 random registered Portland voters consented to the survey via a text-enabled phone number. The survey was conducted March 9 and 10, with a 67% response rate. Of the respondents, more than 10% identified as a person of color. Respondents were asked a series of questions on their preferences between police and non-police responses, and who were best equipped to respond to situations of crisis.

Here are some questions and responses, which show an overwhelming support for programs like Portland Street Response:

87% think non-police 1st responders are better trained to deal with street crises
86.4% think non-police 1st responders are better trained to deal with a wellness check
80.4% do NOT think Portland Police are the best equipped to deal with people having a mental health crisis
61.1% do NOT think Portland Police have a positive impact on homelessness in their neighborhood

The city launched the Portland Street Response program on February 16. It is in a pilot phase, limited to the Lents neighborhood. We want to see the pilot completed, and the program expanded.

At long last, the gears are turning…

The city’s Portland Street Response program is finally real! They have staff, staff is going through training, pilot coverage area and times have been named, and there is a timeline for the next phases! There is even an official City website for the program — click on the button in our banner to visit them and find out more.

Screen capture of the City's PSR website

Thank you to all who have supported Street Roots’ advocacy — you all helped us get this far. We have received endorsements from:

  • 11 current or former elected officials, from city to local to state level;
  • 63 organizations;
  • 13 faith communities;
  • 27 businesses; and
  • 810 individuals.

Going forward, we will maintain this website to continue advocating for the City to see this program through as well as possible.

Read Kaia Sand’s editorial in Street Roots, “Portland Street Response pilot should explore more options”.

City Hall considering cuts to PSR

Please contact Mayor Wheeler, Commissioner Ryan and Commissioner Fritz and ask them to prioritize funding for Portland Street Response rather than police in the budget discussions taking place tomorrow.

Here are excerpts from Kaia Sand’s editorial in this week’s edition of Street Roots:

Mayor Ted Wheeler is protecting the police budget while cutting a portion of the Portland Street Response budget.

Commissioner Chloe Eudaly has already said she’s voting for Hardesty’s proposal to trim PPB further. It’s time to put pressure on Wheeler, Commissioner Dan Ryan and Commissioner Amanda Fritz to support the change as well, in the interest of public safety.

Please vote!

Election Day is November 3rd.  Don’t forget to vote. You can drop off your ballot at any of the Official Ballot Drop Sites.

Here is a graph of voter turnouts for Multnomah County, compared to the last Presidential Election in 2016.  This graph will be updated daily until Election Day.

Graph last updated Sat. Nov. 7, 2020 at 10:45am. “Days before Election Day” include weekends, not just working days.

Source:  Multnomah County Elections Division, Voter Turnout – November 2020 Election and November 2016 Election.

Sen. Wyden (D-OR) proposes CAHOOTS Act

CAHOOTS van with rainbow
CAHOOTS van. Photo courtesy of White Bird Clinic.

Senator Ron Wyden has proposed a national alternative to using police as first responders to mental health crises. The CAHOOTS Act is modeled after Eugene’s eponymous program, operated by the White Bird Clinic. CAHOOTS is also the inspiration for Portland Street Response. The nation-wide program would provide 95% Medicaid match for local municipalities that implement such a program. / The Oregonian reports that

Cahoots fields about 20% of all calls to 911 and the non-emergency line in the greater Eugene area.

In 2018, of the 22,000 calls that Cahoots responded to, less than 150 led to Cahoots requesting police for backup.

Program leaders estimate it saves $7 million annually in medical costs because the so many of the people the non-police teams help would otherwise end up in emergency rooms.

Read OREGONLIVE’s  full article here.

Read Senator Wyden’s statement here.  There are links to a summary of the bill and the complete legislative text at the end of his statement.


Commissioner Hardesty discusses PSR on Rep. Blumenauer’s virtual town hall meeting

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer held a virtual town hall meeting with special guests U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley and City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty this afternoon at 4 p.m.  In a wide-ranging and lively conversation, many subjects were discussed, including the current protests against police violence and systemic racism. Listen to Commissioner Hardesty discussing Portland Street Response in the context of police reforms and reimagining public safety in the following Youtube video starting at 35:32.