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Denver's mental health approach for minor incidents led to a decrease in minor crimes

By: April Carson

Several cities in the US, like New York, Washington DC, and San Francisco, are testing out programs to handle mental health emergencies without police intervention. Recently, the Denver, Colorado police precincts that participated in a new program saw a 34% reduction in non-violent crimes.

In Denver, the Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) Program utilizes mental health professionals and paramedics as responders for non-violent emergencies instead of police.

The STAR staff offer support to individuals who would otherwise face arrest for minor offenses such as trespassing or public intoxication. They are available on-site during weekdays from 10am to 6pm and can also refer people to additional care.

The STAR program is part of the larger effort in Denver to not only decrease minor crime, but also help people who are dealing with mental health issues. This approach has been successful in reducing recidivism and helping those in need get on a path to better lives.

From June to November 2020, STAR was tested in Denver with a two-person team. The trial lasted for six months and the programme was successful, with the Denver City Council voting to expand it. During the trial, STAR responded to 748 incidents, averaging six incidents during an 8-hour shift.

A study conducted by Thomas Dee and Jaymes Pyne at Stanford University in California analyzed crime rates reported in all Denver police precincts. The study found that non-violent crimes decreased significantly in precincts where the STAR program was implemented compared to those where it was not. However, the program did not have an impact on rates of violent crimes.

"The study findings suggest that the STAR program is a promising pathway for reducing police involvement in non-violent emergencies," Dee said. "The evidence also suggests that broader investment in mental health professionals and paramedics can reduce the burden on police while improving public safety."

Over time, the effect of STAR on crime rates became more significant. In June 2020, precincts that used STAR experienced a decrease of 29% in non-violent crime. This decreased even further to 38% by November 2020 when compared to precincts without STAR.

According to Dee, it's possible that the decrease in non-violent crimes during STAR's off-hours is also due to the program's ability to provide individuals with proper care, which can help prevent future incidents from occurring.

Dee explains that mental health crises do not just last for 8 hours and disappear. By providing healthcare to individuals experiencing these crises, they can be directed toward appropriate care. Without proper care, they may return to the streets and potentially offend again the following day.

The STAR program is a great example of how cities can handle mental health emergencies without police intervention. This approach has proved to be successful in reducing non-violent crimes in Denver, and it could serve as a model for other cities looking to follow suit.

Compared to traditional police programs, STAR saved more money while being equally effective. Within six months, STAR thwarted approximately 1376 criminal offenses, and the expenses totaled $208,141. The average cost per apprehension was $152, versus the police department's expenses of approximately $5000 for an arrest.

"The success of the STAR program is a testament to the idea that providing mental health care can be more effective than police intervention," Dee concluded.

Dee has indicated that his ongoing research with other police agencies shows that avoiding these emergency calls could enhance police officers' mental health and ability to keep their jobs. However, this conclusion is based on anecdotal evidence.

Paul Pazen, the chief of police in Denver, says that the officers quickly realised the advantages of STAR program in the first months of its operation and started inquiring about its expansion.

“We are proud of the results this program has delivered. We all know that mental health crises cannot be solved by policing alone, and we need to use a team-based approach in order to make an impact," Pazen said.

Pazen, who was involved in forming and launching STAR, expressed his pride in the approach. Dealing with people in crisis can be difficult, but Pazen believes that STAR leads to better outcomes based on both experience and research. This, he believes, is amazing and the ultimate goal of the approach.

"We certainly have to be proud of the fact that we took a risk on something and it's paying off in so many ways," Pazen said.

The STAR program is an example of how cities can respond to mental health emergencies without relying on police interventions. This approach has proved successful in reducing non-violent crimes in Denver, and could serve as a model for other cities seeking to follow suit.

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April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on

To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav



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