Denver, CO

Denver, Aurora boost alternative police response programs

David Heitz

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Officer Atchison and clinician Matt Glover head out for the day.Aurora Police Department

By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) Aurora and Denver both agreed Monday to provide more money for alternative police response teams.

At their respective City Council meetings, Aurora agreed to spend $230,000 on salaries for a mental health professional and paramedic to staff its Aurora Mobile Response Team or AMRT.

Denver agreed to buy enough vehicles to expand its STAR program citywide. STAR stands for Support Team Assisted Response.

Instead of police, both programs dispatch mental health professionals and a paramedic to calls involving people in crisis. Denver expanded its pilot program citywide earlier this year.

The team will be dispatched on calls to people experiencing mental health problems, depression, poverty, homelessness or substance abuse, according to a staff report provided to Aurora's council.

"The calls will be considered low-risk behavioral health calls to de-escalate and connect a resident in distress with appropriate services, such as information and referrals, crisis intervention, counseling, transportation solutions and social service needs."

Aurora saves $14,450 with alternative police response

The city will pay for a licensed mental health clinician from Aurora Mental Health Center. The rate is $30 per hour plus 5 percent hazard pay. Because of the workforce shortage, the contract allows Aurora Mental Health Center to use a non-licensed clinician if it can't hire an accredited one.

Falck Rocky Mountain, Inc. also received a contract to provide services for $150,000. The money pays for fuel and maintenance for the AMRT vehicle and a paramedic. Councilmember Alison Coombs expressed concerns about long response times with Falck, but city staff said AMRT doesn't have that problem.

The AMRT allows police to be redirected to "life-saving or criminal calls for service," according to a staff report. The report said the city saved $14,540 during the 6-month pilot program alone. "This number increases with every call that the AMRT responds to," according to the report.

Crisis Response Team v. Mobile Response Team

Aurora also has a Crisis Response Team that works closely with the Mobile Response Team. The crisis team pairs a police officer trained in de-escalation with a mental health professional.

"These officers receive extensive crisis intervention, de-escalation, and mental health awareness training to better serve individuals in crisis," the Aurora Police Department posted Sunday on its Facebook page. "Last month, CRT responded to 131 calls for service in the hopes of meeting people where they are at and providing on-scene trauma-informed care through empathy, safety planning, and connecting people with additional resources."

The CRT and MRT programs both "allows us to provide alternative levels of response to mental health calls for service to provide the citizens of Aurora with a spectrum of crisis care," the police department posted.

Denver buys five vans for STAR

The council agreed Monday to spend $526,000 to purchase with Denver Health and Hospital Association five 2022 Ford F150 cargo vans for use in Denver. A council committee previously approved the expenditure.

Denver Health and Hospital Association will maintain, insure, and store the vans. The contract stipulates the hospital association must use the vehicles for the STAR Program. If the city discontinues the program or decides to stop using the hospital association to

operate it, the van titles revert to Denver, according to a city staff report.

Due to ongoing supply chain issues, city staff estimates the vans will be delivered in fall 2022 and then customized with wheelchair lifts, Wi-Fi, and safety lights to prepare them for service.

Co-responder program goes 24/7

Also, Monday, the council voted to use a Caring for Denver grant to fund the police department's co-responder program through the end of August. The co-responder program pairs a mental health professional from Mental Health Center Denver, or MHCD, with a police officer on calls involving psychiatric emergencies.

The city awarded the original contract for $1.8 million to MHCD in July 2021. The grant made it possible to expand the co-responder program around the clock.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career at local newspapers. Today, I report on Denver and Aurora city halls for NewsBreak. Prior to joining NewsBreak, I worked several years as a health reporter and branded content writer in the healthcare space. I also worked many years as a news editor and city editor. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver.

Denver, CO
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