Statistics show huge increase in Denver Police outreach program contacts with homeless

DENVER - Statistics show the Denver Police Department's Homeless Outreach Team had a huge increase in contact with transients during the second quarter of 2014.

In that three-month period alone, the team recorded 1739 total contacts with homeless people -- approximately 174 percent of the historical average documented by Denver Police Department data.

"There's been a huge influx we've noticed," Officer Ligea Craven, a member of the DPD team, told 7NEWS Reporter Jaclyn Allen on Thursday.

Despite the increase in contacts, the data shows that fewer were taken to detox and fewer were arrested than during the second quarters of 2012 or 2013. The numbers referred to homeless service providers, however, are up sharply.

While Denver has a camping ban, Denver Police Cmdr. Tony Lopez told 7NEWS that no one has been cited for violating it.

"The objective was not to make criminals out of people who are indigent, who are homeless," said Lopez.

He added that the team's objective is to find a balance between public safety and people's rights.

When the urban camping ordinance passed in 2012, Denver's Road Home worked on an implementation plan with Denver police. The organization is a collaboration between the City and County of Denver, Mile High United Way, homeless service providers and faith-based organizations. It is tasked to lower the city's homeless population as part of a 10-year plan.

Additionally, the Denver City Council recently approved nearly $2 million and 10 new officers to deal with the homelessness issue downtown.

Police and service providers say it's too soon to know if the influx of homeless people in downtown is tied to the legalization of recreational marijuana. If it is, the reaction was either delayed or is not reflected in the number of contacts made by the Homeless Outreach Team.

Data from DPD shows that the number of contacts during the first quarter of 2014 was only 7 percent above the historical average. The significant increase in contacts came during the second quarter.

Denver police say they've dramatically increased the number of public marijuana consumption citations issued. Last year through June, police said there were about 139 tickets issued. This year through the end of July, 480 citations have been issued for public consumption of marijuana.

For the first half of 2014, the number of contacts with the homeless is up about 31 percent over the first half of 2013. The number for the same period went down about 5 percent between 2012 and 2013.

Male transients have consistently outnumbered females in the data from the first halves of all three years.

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