Messenger: With this public safety achievement, Bush and Biden are on the same page | Tony Messenger

Last summer, Congresswoman Cori Bush and St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones traveled to Denver to observe the latest rage in public safety up close.

Launched as a pilot project a few months earlier, the STAR program in Denver aims to divert 911 calls that involve mental health issues to behavioral specialists rather than police officers. It is modeled to some extent on a similar program in Oregon called CAHOOTS.

Jones’ predecessor, Mayor Lyda Krewson, pioneered a version of the concept in St. Louis that Jones has continued and wants to expand, where some 911 calls are diverted to mental health specialists, and on others, a police officer will still respond, but a mental health professional – the “purple shirts” – will also be present.

In a series of conversations with Congresswoman Cori Bush and St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, Post-Dispatch columnists Aisha Sultan and Tony M…

In a series of conversations with Congresswoman Cori Bush and St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, Post-Dispatch columnists Aisha Sultan and Tony M…

In a series of conversations with Congresswoman Cori Bush and St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, Post-Dispatch columnists Aisha Sultan and Tony M…

In a series of conversations with Congresswoman Cori Bush and St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, Post-Dispatch columnists Aisha Sultan and Tony M…

In a series of conversations with Congresswoman Cori Bush and St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, Post-Dispatch columnists Aisha Sultan and Tony M…

In a series of conversations with Congresswoman Cori Bush and St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, Post-Dispatch columnists Aisha Sultan and Tony M…

The programs are popular with cops, who can focus on more serious public safety work. They’re popular with mental health professionals, who believe these needs have been ignored for too long as states and cities have cut mental health services and sometimes warehoused people who need help in prisons. .

People also read…

Even better, the programs work.

Last month, the Denver City Council voted to expand the STAR program, spending $1.4 million to expand it from one van to six. Other cities in the Denver metro area are adding similar concepts to their public safety programs. In St. Louis, officials say the program has saved about 2,000 hours of police time, my colleagues Erin Heffernan and Robert Patrick recently reported.

“A person in a mental health crisis doesn’t need to come into contact with the police or be thrown in jail,” Jones told reporters last month. “It doesn’t make our neighborhoods any safer. It simply introduces people into our revolving door criminal justice system while tying up police resources for an appeal they may not be adept at handling.

Some, like Bush, might suggest that these programs respond to the concept of “defunding the police” that she speaks of and which is so often derided by her political opponents. In effect, the concept is to save police resources and spend that money on mental health professionals and services.

Others might call it something else. When Bush and Jones were in Denver on their tour last summer, Police Chief Paul Pazen said, “This is not a ‘defund the police’ type program. It’s an “and” for the police, not an “or”. This improves the type of responses for better results and frees up emergency services and law enforcement.

As politics often are, this statement is awash in semantics.

Indeed, in his own semantic prowess last week during his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden made sure to part ways with Bush’s movement: “We should all agree: the the answer is not to defund the police,” Biden said. The answer is to fund the police with the resources and training they need to protect our communities.

It should therefore be noted that in his US bailout, Biden and Congress provided $15 million to help 20 states fund mobile crisis response teams like those operating in Oregon. Colorado and Missouri are on the list of states to fund. The money is budgeted through the Medicaid program.

It’s a success story that becomes harder to tell in a political environment that insists on putting a label on everything. In this case, Bush and Biden and the police and community activists are, for the most part, all on the same side, seeking to help people in their communities who have mental health needs, without wasting police resources and by using the wrong tool for the job. , a tool that too often in such cases can become deadly, especially for black people.

Done right, as these programs grow, they should save enough money in public safety budgets that some of those funds can be transferred to mental health services, with better outcomes for everyone. .

Does it fund the police or defund it?

Call it what you want. It is a winning strategy that should be cheered by people of all political stripes.