The STAR Team

Denver Post: A concerned passerby dialed 911 to report a sobbing woman sitting alone on a curb in downtown Denver.

Instead of a police officer, dispatchers sent Carleigh Sailon, a seasoned mental health professional with a penchant for wearing Phish T-shirts, to see what was going on.

The woman, who was unhoused, was overwhelmed and scared. She’d ended up in an unfamiliar part of town. It was blazing hot and she didn’t know where to go. Sailon gave the woman a snack and some water and asked how she could help. Could she drive her somewhere? The woman was pleasantly surprised.

“She was like, ‘Who are you guys? And what is this?’” Sailon said, recounting the call.

This, Sailon explained, is Denver’s new Support Team Assistance Response [STAR, AT] program, which sends a mental health professional and a paramedic to some 911 calls instead of police.

…The team has responded to an indecent exposure call that turned out to be a woman changing clothes in an alley because she was unhoused and had no other private place to go. They’ve been called out to a trespassing call for a man who was setting up a tent near someone’s home. They’ve helped people experiencing suicidal thoughts, people slumped against a fence, people simply acting strange.

The STAR team has just started to operate in Denver with a small budget but along with an older co-responder program which pairs mental health professionals with police it seems to be working well. On 350 calls, the STAR team has not yet had to call for police backup once. The benefit is not just that the STAR team is better at handling issues associated with poverty and mental health but also that it frees up police time to focus on crime. A good example of unbundling the police.


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