STAR Community Advisory Board Hopes to Have More Influence on Program Operation | Colorado Politics
The Community Oversight Committee overseeing the Denver Support Team Assisted Response Program will facilitate their next monthly meeting, rather than city employees, after tensions boiled over last month when a department employee of Denver Public Health and Environment made the singular decision to shut down Encounter.
The STAR program launched in June 2020 and sends pairs of mental health clinicians and paramedics on low-level, non-violent calls instead of the police and works to connect people to crisis services. He received continued funding from the city and was praised for his success in deflecting police calls.
But tension between community watch members and the city has grown over members’ perceptions that the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment has sidelined the committee’s voice in the operation of the program.
Committee members, mostly people of color, say they are frustrated with the city’s attitude toward them, as they have been involved in discussions about alternative response programs for years and represent communities heavily impacted by police and police violence.
The Denver Department of Public Health and Environment has operated STAR since early 2021, taking over from the police department.
Last month, DDPHE behavioral health officer Dani Peters ended the oversight committee meeting when a few members brought up for discussion an email Peters had sent to members they considered racist and offensive. The email in response to the committee’s request to be involved in the interview process for a STAR program specialist. She said the issue had already come up in individual conversations and that the committee meeting was not the right forum to discuss it.
In the email, reviewed by The Denver Gazette, Peters said she would accept a committee member to participate in the interview process and named two members she said she would be comfortable with. to include. Peters wrote that she didn’t “feel comfortable with where we are in our feature and our relationship to include this framework in an interview with a candidate at this time,” adding “I have to make sure that our internal interview panel and my team also feel safe, and given some of the remarks made by this committee – I don’t feel like we’re there yet.
Committee member Ana Cornelius took Peters’ comments as an implication that she did not feel “safe” with committee members of color participating in the process.
“I weigh about 95 pounds and am 1.50 meters tall. What about being categorized as a predator or a threat to my community – despite having been doing community work for over 40 years – by a woman I had never met before? It’s a white supremacist system staring at you.
The DDPHE said in a statement to The Denver Gazette that executive director Bob McDonald met with members of the oversight committee to apologize for abruptly ending the July meeting.
“We take racism concerns seriously, and no one on our team ever intended to promote a racist agenda. The DDPHE is committed to working with the committee on ways to constructively advance their ideas and recommendations. »
Vinnie Cervantes, the organizing director of the Denver Alliance for Street Health Response, said Friday after a follow-up meeting with McDonald’s that the committee hopes to “implement a new structure within the program that gives more confidence and influence to the advisory committee” and will facilitate the next meeting, rather than the DDPHE.
He also provided a community statement supporting the committee, including several dozen organizations and individuals who signed the statement.
The next meeting of the supervisory committee is scheduled for August 24 at 4:30 p.m.
He said Peters’ characterization of allowing a committee member to participate as a compromise was insulting because the committee disagreed with the creation of the position in the first place, believing it would diminish the committee’s ability. to have an influence on STAR – a pain point since the creation of the committee.
“It felt more like someone stabbing us with an olive branch rather than someone offering some sort of peaceful resolution,” Cervantes said.
For Cervantes, the feeling that the committee’s ability to influence the STAR has been crippled feels like a slap in the face because of his and others’ involvement in the STAR since its inception.
DASHR was launched in 2018 with the specific purpose of launching a community response program, and it had been involved in local discussions about developing an alternative response program for several years prior. Around the same time DASHR was launched, Police Chief Paul Pazen — a former district commander — was developing the idea of a city-run alternative response program.
Cervantes and other community organizations eventually agreed to work with the city to develop a program—inspired by the CAHOOTS program in Eugene, Oregon—knowing that city involvement would mean access to more resources.
But oversight committee members’ concerns about the direction of STAR have grown, and the committee’s voice in the program, since its operation was transferred under the DDPHE. Among their frustrations are the exclusion of “community control” as a core value from STAR’s charter, as well as some instances of police showing up for meetings with STAR – which members say directly contradicts the purpose of the program.
“We built this stuff, and it gets picked up by people who really don’t have the original vision or the values in mind that we built this program for,” Cervantes said, “Also, people who just learned about this who are claiming some level of authority, having been involved in this for years.