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.

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.