DENVER - The Denver City Council unanimously approved a $1.8 million budget increase for the Denver Police and Sheriff's Departments.
The money will be used to hire additional police officers to patrol LoDo, the Ballpark Neighborhood and the 16th Street Mall. It will also be used to cover increased arrest and detention costs.
The decision doesn't sit well with homeless advocates who rallied in front of the Denver City and County Building late this afternoon.
Benjamin Donlon, of the advocacy group Denver Homeless Outloud, worries that the extra officers will spend most of their time harassing the homeless.
"Specifically since they're targeting crimes about homeless issues such as urinating in public, sleeping outside and sitting on the ground," Donlon said.
Donlon believes the money would be better spent addressing homeless issues.
Councilwoman Robin Kniech told 7NEWS says she understands the need to spend more on affordable housing and on programs that will help the homeless find a way back into the mainstream, but adds that this proposal is about safety.
"For many years," Kniech said, "we have been overwhelmed with calls for service."
Kniech added that while downtown Denver is one of the safest in the country, it can be made safer.
"We have very dedicated police officers," Kniech said. "When they are spread so thin and they have to drive up in a car, I think isn't as great as it would be if we had more of them on foot, on the ground, or on bicycle seeing things as they develop.
Denver Police Chief Robert White told councilmembers that the request for more money has to do with targeting crime, not the homeless.
"The purpose is to have a presence vs. aggressively making arrests," he said.
Kniech said she will monitor the number of arrests and citations issued once police beef up patrols.
"If it looks like police are focusing on homeless people then I'll be very disappointed," she said.
Kniech also said the city needs to target more resources on helping the homeless.
"We have got to get in the housing game," she said, referring to transitional housing for the homeless. "If we don't get that done in the next year then this decision (funding for additional police) will have been a failure.
Councilman Paul Lopez said he supports the budget increase, but doesn't want to see officers pulled from his district to patrol downtown.
Separately, three downtown business organizations have begun paying for extra patrolling of three blocks of the 16th Street Mall by off-duty officers to complement the city's increased police coverage.
An officer will focus on each block between Welton and Champa streets during shifts that cover 12 hours a day, ending at 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and midnight Friday and Saturday.
Read more about that 90-day program in The Denver Post.