DENVER (KDVR) — Denver’s Support Team Assistance Response (STAR) program has been operating in the Mile High City now for two years. A new study shows how effective the program was in reducing low-level crime and the cost of responding to certain calls during its initial six-month pilot.
STAR started in June of 2020. The group currently operates one van that goes out to calls with Denver Health paramedics and mental health clinicians with the Mental Health Center of Denver for low-level 911 calls like trespassing, drug overdoses, mental health crises and more.
Denver city council approved additional funding in February to help the program scale up its operation across every precinct. The funding was supplemented by the Caring for Denver Foundation to the tune of $1.4 million.
A study out of Stanford University found promising results from the first six months of the program. The study, co-authored by Professor Thomas Dee, saw a 34% drop in low-level crimes reported in precincts STAR was operating from June 2020 to December of that year, compared to precincts where the program didn’t have a presence.
“This study’s motivation was grounded in growing awareness and concern we have about ways in which we might redesign our first responder practices in ways that meet the challenges in the field,” Dee said. “The evidence from Denver’s pilot period is so important. I think it can motivate these common-sense reforms and help guide its improvement.”
Dee said the researchers drilled down on nearly 750 incidents STAR responded to in its first six months, from mental health and homelessness to substance abuse.
Researchers dove into the crime data across all of Denver’s 36 police precincts before and after STAR was implemented to show the dip in low-level crime, estimating roughly 1,400 fewer criminal offenses took place, due to a combination of fewer citations and a likelihood that offenders were getting connected to services that drove them away from reoffending.
“When a healthcare team is there, that person gets healthcare instead of the criminal justice system and jail,” Dee said. “We see that in these precincts where it was active, these low-level crimes are also reduced during days and hours when STAR staff are not available to respond to the calls.”
The study also found a dramatic reduction in the cost of response for individual calls. Dee said they calculated the cost for STAR came out to be $151 on average for each of the criminal offenses reduced, based on the program’s budget and the estimated 1,400 crimes reduced. That’s more than four times less expensive than the typical law enforcement response with an estimated average of $646 for minor criminal offenses.
“Arresting the person, processing them in jail, keeping them in jail, prosecuting a low-level offense, the cost is over four times larger,” Dee said. “What this suggests to us is that community response programs, like STAR, are not only effective, they’re extraordinarily cost-effective.”
Dee added the outcomes for the individuals is also a bonus for society, by focusing on treatment.
“It seems like such a humane response to people who are experiencing a healthcare crisis, to bring healthcare to them,” Dee said.
STAR started operating in Denver Police Department’s District 6 during the pilot and now operates citywide. It started with one medic, one clinician and one van, and has scaled up to eight medics, 10 clinicians and four vans, with a fifth on the way.
After starting operating hours from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, the program now works seven days a week, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.