During the first half of 2020, Denver police officers responded to hundreds of thousands of calls: Officers helped suicidal people and enforced evictions. They arrived for shootings and car thefts, worked security at university events and directed traffic.
Though violent crime generates the most headlines, Denver’s patrol officers spent more than 80% of their time dealing with other less serious complaints and a wide array of community tasks.
As Denver debates police funding in the wake of massive protests and a budget crisis caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, The Denver Post asked the Denver Police Department to analyze how its officers spend their time. The data show that for every rape, shooting or armed robbery, there are seven times as many calls for other community needs, ranging from domestic disputes and noise complaints to EMS assists.
The nation is reckoning with law enforcement’s role in society, leading police to defending their roles as first-responders who answer calls for crises 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Meanwhile, a growing body of reform-minded politicians, activists and other police experts say the data show the need for a new approach to policing.
In Denver, a proposal to abolish the police department in favor of a “peace force” failed. But the city has announced cuts to its policing budget, largely because of the economic crisis, and now the police union contract is up for debate as Council decides whether officers should get raises when other city employees are not. In other cities, police department budgets have been slashed; in Austin, Texas, the police budget was cut by a third and about $150 million was moved into social services and alternative public safety programs.