Oct 20, 2022 - News

How Denver's STAR program plans to expand

Illustration of a woman's hands making a heart shape over a red siren light.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Denver's Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) program is inching closer to expanding to provide more services to people in the city who need assistance.

Why it matters: The program has been lauded for lowering crime and costs, while enjoying near-universal support from the city government and public.

  • It works by sending a two-person team composed of a behavioral health clinician and a paramedic to low-level calls for issues such as welfare checks and trespassing.
  • STAR does not respond to calls when someone is injured, a weapon is present or there is possible violence, according to a mid-year report.

Driving the news: A Denver City Council committee on Wednesday approved a new $2.3 million contract with Servicios de la Raza to connect people who are contacted by STAR with additional services.

  • Servicios president and CEO Rudy Gonzales tells Axios Denver the contract allows the organization to oversee a network of agencies that can provide direct case management, behavioral health resources, housing referrals and emergency services including access to food and clothing.
  • Tristan Sanders, director of community and behavioral health at Denver's public health department, told City Council members on Wednesday that these services had not previously been in place.
  • Now, when someone is contacted by STAR, they are provided with information on resources, but not directly connected to them.

By the numbers: STAR responded to 2,837 calls for service between Jan. 1 and July 1, according to the mid-year report, which noted the team has not once had to call for back up.

  • Most calls dealt with welfare checks (1,027), while trespassing and a suicidal person were other top reasons for calls.
  • The second-highest call for service was categorized as an "assist," which means 911 communications wanted information about resources, or a courtesy ride.
  • Sanders said the services provided by the contract are "warm handoffs" to other agencies.

What they're saying: "This contract is really specifically going to engage community providers that maybe we're not aware of already, making sure that we have folks across the city," STAR operations manager Carleigh Sailon told City Council members. "So if we're down on South Federal, I'm not referring them somewhere downtown that doesn't make sense."

Details: The program currently operates seven days a week, from 6am to 10pm. It costs about $2 million to operate.

Yes, but: People who supported the pilot program have voiced concerns about its direction.

  • The city suspended the 15-member Community Advisory Committee last month, worrying members who said their input is being silenced.
  • "The advisory committee is meant to be the voice of the people," committee member Miguel Ceballos told 9News.

What's next: The contract approved Wednesday will be considered by the full Denver City Council in the next few weeks.


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