The Pueblo Police Department and Health Solutions unveiled initial statistics from an alternative response model they partnered on and launched this fall.
Between September and October, Pueblo police officers and members of the Solutions Outreach Services team had 109 clients. More than half of those clients received welfare checks while 27 received assistance after a person or another on their behalf requested it. The rest were approached after reports of either trespassing, indecent exposure or “risk of suicidality.”
During the program’s first month, there were 121 SOS-related calls, 42% of which were handled by SOS team members. Dispatchers received 143 calls during the second month and Pueblo police officers responded to most of those.
There were some occasions where an SOS team member responded to a call with Pueblo PD’s Directed Investigation Community Engagement team, which handles lower-level crimes.
Denver’s STAR program gives Pueblo a blueprint
The intent of the program is to “contribute to community stabilization” and “free up officers so they can focus on other public safety issues,” Teah Miller, vice president of specialty services for Health Solutions, told the Chieftain.
The program also seeks to replicate Denver’s Support Team Assisted Response program, which uses “behavioral health clinicians and paramedics to engage people experiencing mental health distress and substance use disorders,” according to the city of Denver’s website.
As of March 2023, Denver’s program had responded to 8,000 calls, all of which would have been sent to officers if the program weren’t active. More than 40% of people served by the program were referred to “formal mental health or substance use treatment” and 38% were taken to a “community resource.”
As of this fall, Denver’s STAR program had 16 paramedics, a similar number of clinicians and eight vans in which to operate out of. It’s been active for more than three years.
City leaders and Pueblo police explored earlier this year the viability of bringing that type of program to Pueblo. Police Chief Chris Noeller in March expressed interest in it, believing it could help officers divert their attention to other calls that necessitate their response.
‘Worth its weight in gold’
During a city council work session Monday, Noeller told councilors despite the program’s infancy, it allows Pueblo officers to shift their focus away from calls where they likely aren’t needed and gives clients access to behavioral health services, which officers can’t always provide.
Funds from the state’s Transformational Homelessness Response Grant program are paying for the SOS team, Miller said. It’s a three-year grant.
“It’s giving us manpower back in spades,” Noeller said. “It’s really worth its weight in gold.”
A clinician, paramedic and person with lived experience make up the SOS team. Some councilors Monday, based on initial data, suggested Pueblo PD and Health Solutions could increase its capacity for the program.
“We’ve clearly shown a need for this,” Noeller said Monday. “Adding capacity would be ideal.”
Miller said Health Solutions is trying to grow the program “responsibly” and that the team needs more data to show it can make the program sustainable in Pueblo.
Pueblo’s SOS team provides first aid, behavioral health interventions and psychoeducational support. The team links people to services and resources where they can receive ongoing care.
The psychoeducational support is done to “guide people to community resources” to reduce their chances of being contacted during a future call, Miller said.
Of the people who were reached during the program’s first two months, most were provided or directed to certain resources or services. A few required emergency assistance and nearly 10 received follow up after the initial call.
The SOS team responds to people throughout the city and there isn’t yet an area where there are a majority of calls, Miller said. The team doesn’t track who is housed or unhoused but one of its goals is to “get people connected to resources that may improve their situation, whether that’s their unhoused state or another matter.”
“It could be anyone,” Miller said.
Health Solutions and Pueblo police found that the highest call volume occurred during Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Most of those calls came in between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., according to the data. The SOS team will make itself most available on those days, Miller said.
Pueblo PD and Health Solutions’ co-response model, the Crisis Intervention Team program where a clinician rides with an officer to a call, remains active, Noeller said.
Chieftain reporter Josue Perez can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, at @josuepwrites. Support local news, subscribe to The Pueblo Chieftain at subscribe.chieftain.com.