DENVER – Just three days after Denver’s Task Force to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety released its report recommending more than 100 different ways in which the city’s police department can improve its practices, Mayor Michael Hancock, along with some of the city’s top public officials, laid out their own strategy to address violent crime and police reform.
On Monday, Hancock announced the creation of the city’s Transformation and Policy Division, part of the mayor’s three-pronged approach to drive Denver’s recovery out of the pandemic, the other two priorities being the economy and the city’s effort to combat the rise in homelessness.
“Cities across the country are seeing high levels of crime as we emerge from this COVID pandemic and the economic crisis that has followed,” Hancock said during Monday’s news conference. “We are taking a renewed approach to proactive engagement … that will help meet post-COVID challenges and address crime and social issues Denver is seeing today.”
Hancock said the city had an obligation to do this work, following the reckoning brought by the murder of George Floyd last year and the “systemic issues in our criminal justice system.”
Under the purview of the Denver Department of Public Safety, the Transformation and Policy Division will work to make sure all the city’s public safety agencies establish and use best practices to continually improve operations and culture; partner with community stakeholders to build and nurture trust – both within and outside of the department; follow through on equitable actions and operations; take recommendations from the community on a regular, ongoing basis, including those from Denver’s Task Force to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety – which Hancock said the city was still reviewing following Friday’s release of the 53-page report; provide monthly updates of its work to the citizen’s oversight board to improve communication and transparency; and form evaluation plans and identify race equity, public safety and community collaboration.
“Reform isn’t something that just happens once,” Hancock said. “It must be continuous, and it must be sustained. It must result in changing the systems and changing the rules so that racism and bias are rooted out and eliminated."
Hancock, however, stressed that he would “never starve” the police department of training and resources officers need to combat crime, which Denver Chief of Police Paul Pazen said was an area which has not seen improvement over the past year.
Data provided during the news conference by Pazen showed that over the past year, 26.1% of homicides and aggravated assaults and 49% of all aggravated shooting victims were from one of five crime hot spots in the city of Denver.
Those hot spots – which make up only 1.56% of Denver’s landmass (excluding Denver International Airport) – were identified as the following areas:
- South Federal Boulevard and West Alameda Avenue
- Colfax Avenue and Broadway
- Colfax Avenue and Yosemite Street
- 47th Avenue and Peoria Street
- MLK Jr. Boulevard and Holly Street
Pazen said the new policing model would focus on those five key areas and would seek out collaboration with other city partners like the city’s fire department, the department of transportation and infrastructure (DOTI), along with community organizations to find ways to not only reduce crime but prevent it from happening in the first place.
He also said highlighting those areas was not an indictment on those parts of town or its residents, but instead was away to demonstrate how the police department would commit resources to those areas to reduce crime and improve their safety.
For example, for a police officer in the area, that might mean walking around the neighborhood more often and really getting to know the community a bit better. Getting DOTI involved might mean fixing a streetlight in a neighborhood to provide more visibility at night.
“We are committed to reducing crime, especially violent crime, and addressing underlying factors using all available city resources,” Pazen said. “This is a call for action to our residents, to our faith-based groups, to our neighborhood associations and those that want to help Denver become the safest, most equitable city in America."
Executive Director of Public Safety Murphy Robinson said the new approach seeks to establish long-lasting change, highlighted in four tenants: Community collaboration, alternative service delivery, transformative culture, and accountability.
“We want you to see this Transformation and Policy Division as the official vehicle to accept recommendations from the community, much like we’ve accepted on Friday the reimagined police recommendations from the task force that come from the community… that will help us move the needle in a more appropriate way.”
Robison further detailed what those four tenants mean for the new division:
Community collaboration: Focuses on creating partnerships between public safety officials and residents to help officials understand how they can change and reform policies. Those recommendations would then be forwarded to the city, who would then research them and establish policy or educational research behind those policies.
Alternative service delivery: Seeks to see how the city can transform the way the city delivers a service to the community – whether that means sending a counselor instead of a police officer to a call for a person in distress.
Transformative culture: Will be accomplished by having public safety recruit officers that reflect a particular community, but also make sure that the culture within the community makes them want to stay, and working on implementing equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) training that “will really reflect the mayor’s priorities and reflect the culture and system in the city that we live in,” Robison said.
Accountability: Robison said the new division would work to make sure they were holding themselves accountable to the tenets and policies that were presented Monday, and said they work to make sure their research and other documents would be readily available and easily accessible for the public.
“It’s important to note that we can’t do this alone. It’s not going to just take the Department of Public Safety, it’s not going to just take a task force of reimagining the police and public safety,” said Robinson. “It is going to take us as a community – as a whole – to really change the needle and lead the nation in what transformation of policy for the department of public safety looks like for the 21st Century.”
But Dr. Robert Davis, the project coordinator for Denver’s Task Force to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety, said Monday's news conference from the city was a clear message from the city that things were going to continue to be business as usual.
He said he was concerned with some of the language used during the news conference by city officials, which he said has been used in the past, and that the messaging from the city doesn't solve the problems at the root - those of social, economic and educational inequality.
“The plan announced this morning was more of the same," Davis said. "From what I’ve had an opportunity to see from the press conference, it doesn’t seem as if the community was heard, it doesn’t seem as if the George Floyd protests were heard.”
Denver7 reporter Liz Gelardi contributed to this report.