After dispatching mental health teams, instead of police officers, to certain 911 emergency calls, the city of Denver is proclaiming their pilot program a huge success—and expanding it significantly. Since June 2020, the Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) has deployed medical and behavioral health clinicians to respond to over 2,200 low risk calls reporting trespassing, intoxication, or mental health crises involving poverty, homelessness or addiction. In all that time, STAR teams have never called for police back-up due to a safety issue, according to their January report. In January, the City Council unanimously allocated a $1.4 million contract for the STAR program’s expansion, paying for five additional white vans and hiring 7 clinicians, 4 paramedics, and two emergency medical technicians.
Alternatives to police
Portland, Oregon - The first six months of the Portland Street Response pilot project is meeting its lofty expectations, according to a Portland State University (PSU) study released Tuesday. "Based on the findings... we feel very optimistic about the future of Portland Street Response and believe it is well on its way to becoming a citywide solution to responding to 911 and non-emergency calls involving unhoused people and people experiencing mental health crisis," reads the report, conducted by PSU's Homelessness Research and Action Collaborative. The Portland Street Response (PSR) is an unarmed first responder team comprised of a mental health clinician, firefighter paramedic, and two community health workers who are dispatched to 911 calls regarding mental health crises or issues regarding unhoused people.
At a school in North Minneapolis, the school day starts with a team of four peacekeepers escorting teachers and staff into the building. Then the team watches out for the students as they get off the bus and enter the schoolyard. Throughout the day, they’re on hand to de-escalate fights and aid the students in conflict resolution. They’re not volunteers. This is their job. They have replaced police (resource officers) in this school. This is not a fairy tale or a utopia story. Two blocks away is a hub of drug dealing. Gun violence is frequent in this neighborhood. These four peacekeepers are part of EMERGE, a program which provides internships, jobs and mentorship for youth who live amidst a cycle of violence, trauma, gangs and/or the justice system.
Imagine a world where after being accused of using a counterfeit bill, George Floyd was approached by a community member who helped mediate the situation, rather than the police officer who suffocated him as he begged for his life. A world where Rayshard Brooks was not murdered for falling asleep in his car in a Wendy’s parking lot, but given a ride home. A world where Elijah McClain was not choked and injected with ketamine for “acting suspicious,” but simply asked by a neighbor how he was doing. Those in power would have us believe that such a world is impossible — but for the past four years, the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago has been providing a roadmap for what this radical reimagining of justice might look like.