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.

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.

OREGONLIVE.com / 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.