Story at a glance
- The Black Lives Matter movement has campaigned to defund local police departments, imploring them to handing over some of their responsibilities to other agencies.
- In Denver, a new community response program is successfully reducing calls for the police department.
- Health care workers are dispatched to calls involving issues with mental health, poverty, homelessness or substance abuse where there is no evidence of criminal activity or potential harm.
The city of Denver just got its first report card on defunding the police and seems to be a star pupil.
STAR, that is.
Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) dispatches health care workers to calls concerning mental health, poverty, homelessness or substance abuse when there is no evidence of criminal activity, disturbance, weapons, threats, violence, injuries or "serious" medical needs. In the first six months after the program launched in June 2020, health professionals responded to 748 calls that required no help from police, according to an evaluation, which the city’s police chief considers a success.
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"That's 748 times fewer that the police department was called, meaning we can free up law enforcement to do what law enforcement is supposed to do, and really what law enforcement is good at, and that is addressing crime issues, violent crime, property crime and traffic safety," Chief Paul Pazen told CBS News.
Nearly 60 percent of those helped were men, according to the report, many of whom were experiencing homelessness, mental health concerns or both. Some needed transportation to service centers, while others were provided resources through community donations. After trespassing calls, welfare checks, calls for assistance and follow up calls were the most common incidents.
Since 2015, nearly a quarter of all people killed by police officers in America have had a known mental illness, according to a Washington Post database.
"I think it saves lives," Pazen told CBS. "It prevents tragedies."
Programs like this one have gained popularity across the country since demonstrations last summer brought renewed attention to police violence and calls to defund the police, reallocating both money and responsibilities to more specialized departments. The city and county are putting $1.4 million into the program for this year, allowing it to expand the initial pilot program.
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