A Denver Program Sends Mental Health Experts Instead Of Cops: "Trying To Create True Alternatives"

A Denver Program Sends Mental Health Experts Instead Of Cops: "Trying To Create True Alternatives"

The Support Team Assistance Response program sends skilled mental health professions and paramedics to tackle crises that don't threaten public safety.

Image Source: Getty Images/FatCamera (Representative)

On Friday, a 13-year-old boy on the autism spectrum was shot in Salt Lake City by a police officer after his mom called 911 seeking assistance for her son who was undergoing a mental health crisis. Speaking to CBS affiliate KUTV Golda Barton revealed that her son Linden Cameron was having a "mental breakdown" and so she called the police to request a crisis intervention team to transport her son Linden Cameron. After almost a year she had returned to work, said the mother adding that Linden, who has Asperger syndrome, suffers from separation anxiety.


Barton had informed the officers that her son was unarmed and recalls describing him as "a kid ... trying to get attention, he doesn't know how to regulate" and she was asked to stay put. But within minutes of their arrival, Barton heard voices yelling, "Get down on the ground," and this was followed by several gunshots. Unfortunately, the boy was left with serious "injuries to his shoulder, both ankles, intestines, and bladder," according to a GoFundMe page. The unnecessary violent attack on this juvenile could have been avoided and Linden's devastated mother believes that the police's response was excessive. "He's a small child. Why don't you just tackle him? You are big police officers with massive amounts of resources. Come on, give me a break," she said according to NPR


This has forced everyone to rethink the role of armed police in our society and maybe find an alternative for such sensitive cases where the violence of the police is not needed at all. Keeping this understanding in mind, Denver has launched a new Support Team Assistance Response program that sends seasoned mental health professions and paramedics to tackle crises that don't threaten public safety. Launched in June, the program found that unarmed mental health professionals were more effective at resolves such issues than armed officers.


"We’re really trying to create true alternatives to us using police and jails," expressed Vinnie Cervantes who works with Denver Alliance for Street Health Response, one of the organizations that helped kick start this program. According to The Denver Post, the STAR van has already responded to over 350 calls and helped with situations that do not require any force but an understanding mental health specialist. The program aims to "connect people who pose no danger with services and resources while freeing up police to respond to other calls," reads the report.


Although it took years for the program to set off, it was launched just four days after protests began erupting calling for police reform in Denver, following the death of George Floyd. "It really kind of proves that we’ve been working for the right thing and that these ideas are getting the recognition they should," shared Cervantes. The team caters to a variety of situations and for them, no day is alike, revealed Sailon and Chris Richardson from the Mental Health Center of Denver who works out of the van.


Explaining the importance of this unarmed assistance, they shared a few instances including the time they responded to an "an indecent exposure call" which ultimately turned out to be a woman changing her clothes in an alley as she had no private place to go after being unhoused. In another case of trespassing, they found a man had been living in a tent. They also assisted some folks experiencing suicidal thoughts. Although the STAR program is working in the central downtown area of the city, the community hopes to expand it across the city. To achieve this, organizers are working with municipalities to adopt similar programs. It's not possible to know if a program like STAR would have helped prevent the Linden from being shot in Salt Lake City. But one thing is clear that the violent response and solution of the police to keep our cities and residents safe is definitely not the solution. 

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