Therapists, not police: Other cities look at program for 911 response

Published: Jul. 9, 2021 at 11:15 AM CDT
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(KCNC) - Denver is allowing mental health professionals and a paramedic to answer some low-level emergency calls.

The program provides specialized help instead of sending police officers, and its success is inspiring other cities to try the idea.

The city’s Support Team Assisted Response, or STAR, program is getting used to giving tours. On Thursday, St, Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo, were in Colorado visiting.

Staff showed them a van used on calls filled with items that may be useful, including extra clothes, bottled water, snacks and feminine products.

“I wanted to see a response model that did not involve officers and see how that was set up,” Jones said.

In six months, the STAR program has responded to 1,300 calls and never needed to ask for backup from a police officer.

“Just being able to think on your feet and creatively solve those problems and, you know, being non-judgmental and friendly and supplying people with a bottle of water goes a long way,” said Carleigh Sailon, STAR operations manager.

Jones was surprised how well it works to free up first responders for other calls and how much STAR employees enjoy their work. She said she learned Denver’s other emergency responders - police, fire, EMS - were in favor of the program as well.

Denver is providing more funding for the program to increase staff and hours.

“This is the population the staff on the STAR van wants to work with, and these really are people, and we’re happy to go out and serve them,” Sailon said.

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