Oct 6, 2021 - Politics

More Colorado cities follow Denver’s lead on police alternatives

Illustration of a police uniform standing with no person inside it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Denver's pivot from police is catching on in other Colorado cities, both blue and red.

Why it matters: Alternative police response programs that treat people in mental distress more like patients than prisoners can produce better results and save taxpayers money by efficiently targeting the city's resources.

State of play: Following the lead of Denver's STAR (Support Team Assisted Response) program, Colorado Springs now plans to allocate more than $400,000 from the city’s 2022 budget to form a crisis response team that deploys mental health professionals instead of armed police to low-level 911 calls.

What's next: Denver Mayor Michael Hancock's administration wants to form a "Crisis Response Team" in the city’s jails next year.

  • The goal is to use $1 million from the city's 2022 budget to better serve the nearly two-thirds of city prisoners who have ongoing or history of mental illness, Hancock's spokesperson, Mike Strott, tells Axios.
  • Pending budget approval, the sheriff's department will deploy seven clinicians to the downtown jail and four to the Denver County Jail with one supervisor over both facilities. City officials are actively recruiting for the positions in anticipation of the budget passing, Strott says.
  • Other cities in the state may follow Denver's lead, depending on the program's success.

By the numbers: None of the 1,600+ calls the STAR team received since launching last summer have required backup from police or led to an arrest.

  • One-third of calls have resulted in transferring people in need to homeless shelters, crisis centers, hospitals or their own homes.

The big picture: In the wake of nationwide protests over police accountability, Denver's STAR program — designed after a decades-old model in Eugene, Oregon — is gaining popularity across major U.S. cities that are looking to divert traditional law enforcement from 911 calls for mental health emergencies.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new information from city safety officials to clarify that the Crisis Response Team at Denver's jails is a separate initiative from the STAR program.


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