How Denver's 'collaborative' plan for policing compares to what community leaders want

Denver police shooting
Posted at 3:06 PM, May 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-24 22:02:48-04

DENVER — City officials on Monday unveiled what they called a "collaborative, community-based" approach to policing in Denver, one aimed at reducing violent crime while the city also recovers from the effects of the pandemic.

The plan, part of the city's COVID-19 recovery strategy, included input from Mayor Michael Hancock, the city's public safety director, Murphy Robinson, police Chief Paul Pazen and other city and county officials.

But while the plan was presented as a "public safety transformation," it strongly contrasted — both in scope and specifics — with a 53-page report released last week by a community-wide task force.

The Task Force to Reimagine Police and Public Safety — which included leaders from across 40 different community groups, as well as elected officials — offered the city 112 recommendations for improving policing in Denver.

The task force was formed in the wake of George Floyd’s murder last year, with a focus on equity and social justice.

Members of the Denver City Council, Denver District Attorney's Office and the city's Office of Independent Monitor also participated in the task force.

The task force said it was "launched with the full support and cooperation of Mayor Hancock, Denver City Council and the Denver Department of Public Safety" but that Denver police withdrew from the task force at the beginning of 2021.

Police officials have not said why they left the task force, but Hancock on Monday said the city is reviewing the task force's recommendations. The mayor could not yet commit to Denver putting any of those changes in place.

While the city is still early in its review of the task force's report, we compared what Denver officials announced Monday with what community leaders have called for when it comes to changing policing.

What community leaders want

The task force recommendations were categorized into five focus areas:

  • Empowering the community with more resources
  • Minimizing unnecessary interactions with law enforcement
  • Helping people transition back into society after being incarcerated
  • Addressing and healing the harm caused by current policing practices
  • Expanding community involvement and oversight in policing

The recommendations included dozens of requests, including: Decriminalizing traffic offenses, ending no-knock warrants, ending civil asset forfeiture practices, ending cash bail in most scenarios and allowing safe injection sites in Denver.

You can read all 112 recommendations here. And read the task force's full report here.

"Public safety ensures that all members of the community decide how to organize a social environment that provides the freedom to live and thrive with the protection and support of social, physical, mental and economic well-being," the task force wrote in its report. "Safety is not a function of armed paramilitary forces with a proven track record of racism and violence. Public safety prevents, reduces, and heals harm."

What Denver's plan includes

• Denver's plan announced Monday is focused on city agencies, from police to the fire department to the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI), working together to reduce crime in five hotspot areas of the city.

For a police officer, this might mean walking the streets more and getting to know the community better. For DOTI, this might mean fixing a streetlight in a neighborhood before it becomes a problem.

• The city emphasized that the new approach would be more proactive in helping reduce crime in those hotspot areas.

• The hotspot areas listed by the city included: South Federal Boulevard and Alameda Street; Colfax Avenue and Broadway; Colfax and Yosemite; 47th and Peoria; and MLK Jr. Boulevard and Holly Street.

• Police Chief Paul Pazen said the city found that 1.56% of Denver's landmass (not including the airport) accounted for 26.1% of all city homicides in 2020 and 49% of all city shootings. The five hotspot areas are included in that landmass area.

• The Denver plan included the creation of a new division within the city's public safety department — the Transformation and Policy Division.

The division, according to public safety director Murphy Robinson, will be aimed at making sure city departments, including police, are listening to and engaging with members of the public.

The division will also implement diversity training and work on accountability efforts, such as public dashboards where data will be updated and citizens can submit their own recommendations.