DENVER — On Thursday, Denver leaders acknowledged the work ahead of them and laid out plans — some new and some currently in place but extended — to reduce the city's recent increase in crime.
During a press conference Thursday morning, Denver Mayor Hancock recognized the rise in crime in Denver and how that threat ripples out, not only harming those close to the crimes, but the community as a whole. It has become a top concern for his administration, he said.
As a result, he released a new action plan Thursday that aims to improve public safety across the board. You can read the plan in full here.
Denver is not alone in this sense, he said, as crime rates have increased in other places in Colorado and across the United States. The cause of this increase cannot be nailed down to one singular fault, so there's no one, easy solution, he said.
"But we will not play politics with this challenge of crime," Hancock said. "This isn't a Democratic or Republican issue. It's an issue that affects everyone and we must address it squarely and without regard to politics. That is the approach I will take as mayor."
Denver Police Department (DPD) Chief Paul Pazen said Denver had 96 homicides in 2021 — the most the city has seen in more than three decades. The number of shootings, burglaries, auto thefts, car break ins, and robberies have also increased, he said. Police took more guns off the street than they have any other year, Hancock said.
Hancock said the current public safety challenges can be broken up into four parts:
- Illegal guns
- Drug addictions and violence (opioid crisis, emergence of cheap fentanyl, deadlier versions of meth)
- Youth violence
- Criminals re-offending once they are released
The solutions to these problems will require a coordinated approach with partners at the local, state and federal level, plus collaboration with law enforcement and addiction and treatment providers, he said. Law enforcement alone won't be able to solve them.
However, Hancock said he plans to hire more police officers and sheriff's deputies to help. In addition, the city will scale up its efforts on body-worn cameras, deescalation tactics, Support Team Assisted Response (S.T.A.R.) and more.
The police department will also build on the precision policing model it deployed during the summer of 2021, which identified five hotspots across Denver. This has resulted in a dramatic decrease in criminal activity in four of the five hotspots, Pazen said. Those areas are: S. Federal Boulevard and W. Alameda Avenue, Colfax Avenue and Broadway, Colfax Avenue and Yosemite Street, 47th Avenue and Peoria Street, and MLK Jr. Boulevard and Holly Street.
While police continue their work there, they will add three new locations to the list of hotspots.
Pazen identified those as the areas around Federal Boulevard and 14th Avenue, W. Mississippi Avenue and S. Lipan Street, and E. Dartmouth Avenue and S. Havana Street. Because each of those areas is unique, the public will see different types of responses, Pazen said.
Hancock said police will also focus on issues at Union Station and the downtown core.
Pazen said the approach at Union Station will be collaborative with RTD partners and case managers and substance use navigators. But the type of illegal behavior there also means enforcement needs to step up too.
"Through the efforts of our women and men who wear this uniform, in the last three months, we've increased our focus on this illegal behavior," he said. "More than 522 individuals have been held accountable for their actions."
Regarding criminal activities among youths, Hancock said the city plans to increase safety and expand education and employment opportunities through "city-supported, community-led and youth-informed" programming. This includes more coordination with the City of Aurora through the Youth Violence Prevention Regional Compact, supporting safety around recreation centers, investing in community-led prevention strategies, and launching a partnership with Life-Line Colorado to provide wraparound programming for youth and families.
Hancock then moved to bond reform, which he said was "undoubtedly the right thing to do." However, he acknowledged that it created a loophole that allowed offenders to get out of jail on PR bonds and to return to the streets and re-offend.
"We cannot allow people who represent a public safety risk to be back on our streets," Hancock said. "And we will work with the courts, the DA and the state to address this challenge."
City Attorney Kristin Bronson will review and make recommendations about possible alternatives for use in bond setting, he said. The tool must be fair, but must also help save lives, Hancock said.
Part of why Denver is seeing compromised safety is due to problems associated with untreated mental illness and drug addictions, Hancock said. The city will work toward a solution by increasing efforts — which have already started — to connect people with services and support them on their journey to recovery.
"We're also going to rework how we release these folks from jail so they're released into a supportive environment, and not simply back onto the streets with no safety net," he said.
This includes DPD's Assessment Intake Diversion (AID) Center, which will be a "welcoming, trauma-informed center" that will stay open 24/7 throughout the year so clinical personnel can evaluate an arrested person and connect them with services, case management and shelter, as needed, Hancock said.
Sheriff Elias Diggins with the Denver Sheriff Department said his department has also been focusing on untreated mental illness and drug addictions. This has included standing up its Crisis Response Team to help people in custody through mental health professionals who are also Denver Sheriff's Department employees. They will work alongside deputies in jails 24/7, he said.
This will prevent mental health crises by providing treatment and de-escalating situations, while also preventing assaults on staff and others, he said.
"As we look at the intersectionality of criminal behavior of people and addiction, we are continuing to take measured steps to help those in our custody come back to the community better than how they came into our facilities," Diggins said.
Along with Denver Health, the sheriff's office will expand its medicated assisted treatment programs to help offenders with addictions.
People who are stabilized and have support systems will commit less crimes, he said.
Hancock said the city will continue working on all of these challenges until they are solved.
"Fentanyl is killing people on our streets — right now. People are getting their hands on illegal guns and shooting and killing people — right now. Criminals are taking advantage of vulnerable individuals and when we arrest them, they're getting right back out to do it again — right now, in Denver, Colorado" he continued. "I'm not going to allow this to continue to happen on my watch."
Denver Fire Department Chief Fulton also briefly spoke during the press conference, and described recruitment and retention efforts for his department.
The fire department will continue the youth fire safety camps already in place, lower the required age of EMT applicants to 18, and recruit a workforce representative of the city it serves, Fulton said.
Interim Executive Director of Safety Armando Saldate explained that the city is working to establish the Community Care Diversion Triage Center, which will allow people who have been arrested for low-level crimes to be connected to resources instead of being booked into jail.
Saldate also called for the public to remember the stresses that Denver's public safety personnel have been through in the past few years. Many of those departments are currently stretched thin, he said. As a result, Saldate said they are reevaluating their recruitment strategies and making changes that line up with worker feedback.