Denver had an idea: What if the city didn’t send police into situations for which they don’t have proper training? Sounds logical, right? Yet over the years, police have increasingly been required to respond to all manner of 911 calls, even the noncriminal ones. The result has been not only strain on the force, but also incidents that sometimes escalated violently.
So Denver created the Support Team Assistance Response (STAR) program. It grew out of last year’s protests calling for police reform. But rather than gravitating toward the polarized extremes of the issue, it sought the space in the middle where solutions often start.
The police handed over response to mental health calls, substance abuse calls, or other low-level issues. Instead of law enforcement officers, unarmed health care workers responded. A recent report found that STAR handled 748 incidents in six months. None resulted in arrests, jail time, or even required police assistance. Now, the police chief himself is looking to add more money to the program. “I want the police department to focus on police issues,” Chief Paul Pazen told the Denverite.
Added Matthew Lunn, an author of the report: “I think it shows how much officers are buying into this, realizing that these individuals need a focused level of care.”