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DENVER (KDVR) — A new program in Denver removes police officers from certain 911 calls. A pilot version of the STAR program launched in June 1. Five days a week, a mental health clinician, along with a paramedic, respond to mental health crises-related calls.

The Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) is funded through the Caring for Denver Foundation. The foundation is funded though a November 2018 ballot initiative voters passed to support programs for mental health and substance misuse issues.

The pilot program will last for the next six months, Monday through Friday. It launched as protests erupted across the country over the killing of George Floyd. With that, the national conversation turned to police reform and in some cases, defunding police departments.  

Rohan Bliss with the Denver Justice Project said the timing of this is interesting. His group supports STAR and said the effort to launch the program started well over a year ago.

“This is another step toward real solution for public health and safety issues away from coercive law enforcement,” said Bliss.

According to Bliss, STAR is modeled after a program in Eugene, Oregon called CAHOOTS. He said once funding was available through the Caring for Denver Foundation, they hoped to launch a pilot program in April. The pandemic pushed it back. Then, on the afternoon of May 28, organizers decided to launch STAR on June 1. The night of May 28, Denver would see the first of several nights protests, riots and clashes with police.

Carleigh Sailon is with Mental Health Centers of Denver. She said in the last week they have received several calls for STAR, including calls where officers asked dispatch to call for STAR.

“We are not armed. We are there to provide deescalation and  support,” said Sailon.

Sailon said the ultimate goal is to expand the program to all of Denver and offer it 24/7.

The Denver Police Department already uses the ‘co-responder’ model in which a mental health counselor, along with an officer, respond to specific calls together. Sailon said the STAR models takes that a step further.