Denver’s police alternative STAR program could get additional staff, vans and expand to 24-hour service next year

The Safety, Housing, Education and Homelessness Committee approved a proposal to expand the program. It now heads to City Council.

The Support Team Assisted Response van. June 8, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Support Team Assisted Response van. June 8, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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Denver’s Support Team Assisted Response program, or STAR, could be getting six new behavioral health clinicians, six additional EMTs and three additional vans in 2023, increasing service to 24 hours a day. The program sends a mental health clinician and a paramedic to nonviolent emergencies in place of police.

The expansion would add almost $886,000 to the program, allowing for a total of 10 vans and 16 responder teams. The legislation to expand the program now heads to city council after passing through the Safety, Housing, Education and Homelessness Committee Wednesday.

Denver has already expanded the STAR program multiple times.

In October, City Council approved a contract with Servicios de La Raza, providing $2.3 million to subcontract with community organizations to provide longer term care after an emergency response.

The program began in 2020 with one van, and later expanded with additional vans in 2022 to serve people citywide. The additional teams would let STAR expand its hours of operation to all-day service.

The program has been popular with police, mental health clinicians and advocates. According to a presentation from the Department of Public Health and Environment, so far in 2022, STAR responded to around 5,000 calls and helped 1,100 people receive follow-up services. The majority of calls came from downtown and supported people with case management services.

Councilmembers on the committee voted to move the proposal forward, and asked for detailed data on STAR’s services and plans for the expansion.

“I think if we think about this as a moment of a new start, not just a new year and a new contract, I think it’s an opportunity,” said Councilwoman Robin Kniech.

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