Denver, CO

Denver alternative to police response needs more bandwidth, councilmember says

David Heitz

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A STAR team takes a break between calls.City and County of Denver

Denver City Councilmember Chris Hinds said Friday that the city’s alternative police response program, STAR, only is available for one half of 1 percent of those who need it.

Hinds made his remarks during a presentation on the city budget he gave via Facebook livestream. “STAR needs more bandwidth. We want to get police out of the business of responding to things that don’t need police.”

When a call into the dispatch center meets certain criteria, dispatchers can send a STAR van instead of police. STAR teams include a paramedic and a mental health professional. STAR stands for Support Team Assisted Response.

Public safety priorities

Hinds said better funding STAR emerged a top priority for the council. Other public safety priorities include:

· Funding mental health, wellness, and addiction services prioritizing mental health and addiction services for residential and in-patient care. Increase counseling, addiction recovery beds, and other direct-service tools.

· Funding youth support programming, including violence prevention, employment, and childcare.

· Funding litter and graffiti clean-up in neighborhoods.

Secondary considerations include:

· Restoring staffing at Denver Sherriff’s Department and prepare a retention survey for current employees.

· Funding an Office of Neighborhood Safety connected to, but not run by, the Department of Safety.

· Funding the activation of community recreation centers (parks, rec centers, facilities), including recommendations made by the Department of Parks and Recreation’s alternative outdoor recreation plan. Includes funding overhead of city-owned property leased to nonprofits.

· Expand funding for the Correlates of Crime program piloted in Denver Police Department District 4.

Overall, the council is trying to “reframe safety in a public health, evidence-based, and anti-racist context with community investment to ensure healthy neighborhoods,” according to budget documents.

Help for homeless

The council also has prioritized funding to help people experiencing homelessness. The council aims to “Increase affordable housing and support those experiencing homelessness throughout our city,” according to budget documents. The council aims to “Mitigate and reduce the involuntary displacement of community members and businesses.”

The council plans to accomplish this by:

· Increasing staffing in Community Planning and Development

· Funding additional Safe Outdoor Spaces (legal tent villages), safe parking for people who live out of their cars, tiny homes, addiction and mental health treatment, employment training programs, and a navigator linked to homelessness programs.

· Funding for housing stability, Temporary Rental and Utility Assistance (TRUA), legal assistance, single-family housing rehabilitation and repair, rental assistance, and tenant-landlord counseling.

· Grants for accessory dwelling unit construction.

· Funding for community planning to implement Blueprint Denver “advanced equity and area plans, including acceleration of neighborhood planning initiatives.”

· Gap funding for targeted construction and preservation of deed-restricted rentals and for- sale housing.

· Legal assistance dollars for Right to Counsel.

Funding for the elderly

Secondary considerations include:

· Funding the Office on Aging to assist the elderly population with finding and applying for services.

· Funding immigrant legal defense.

Denver’s general fund totals $1.66 billion for 2023. Hinds said the budget includes more than 700 pages. Budget presentations will be all of next week.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here.

Denver, CO
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