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Denver mayor announces new Office of Neighborhood Safety

The Denver Task Force to Reimaging Policing and Public Safety accused Mayor Mike Johnston of trying to co-opt its initiative.
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Posted at 5:40 PM, May 13, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-13 19:40:54-04

DENVER — Denver Mayor Mike Johnston on Monday announced the creation of the Office of Neighborhood Safety, which will focus on keeping the community safe without involving the police.

“We think there are so many services the city offers that help increase public safety, but do it without a badge and a gun,” Johnston said at a press conference.

The city will transfer $11 million, along with 65 employees from the Department of Safety, to the new Office of Neighborhood Safety, according to Johnston. The new office will house the city’s youth safety programs, the Denver A.I.D. Center, the Office of Community Violence Solutions and part of the STAR Program.

“This unifies those services, makes them easy to access and makes them more community driven in terms of what community members need,” said Johnston.

The Office of Neighborhood Safety will be part of the Office of Social Equity Innovation.

Denver task force focused on reimagining policing planning community-led think tank

Dr. Ben Sanders, the city’s Chief Equity Officer, said the launch of the Office of Neighborhood Safety represents a new milestone for Denver.

“We embark on a new chapter in Denver's story,” said Sanders. “One that champions justice, dismantling the barriers with which we're all too familiar, and working with historically marginalized communities to use what they know to create what they need.”

Several cities across the country have created similar offices, including New York City, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. The offices are set up differently in every city, but all of them seek solutions to violence outside of traditional law enforcement. Richmond, California, where the first Office of Neighborhood Safety was created, saw a 62% decrease in its homicide rate over a 15-year period.

Denver began looking at creating its own Office of Neighborhood Safety during the Hancock Administration. A feasibility study was released in April 2023, recommending the city create an ONS. In October 2023, Johnston rejected a recommendation from the Denver City Council to use $1.5 million to establish an Office of Neighborhood Safety but said it remained a priority of his administration.

The Denver Taskforce to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety, which has pressed Johnston to create an Office of Neighborhood Safety since he took office, grew tired of waiting. So, its members decided to create one of their own. They accused Johnston of trying to co-opt their efforts, noting that his announcement was held on the same day they were holding a major event for their initiative, resulting in competing events.

“The mayor rejected the recommendations from the task force, his own ONS transition committee, and city council members to create an office to support alternatives to policing. However, after the task force announced plans in February to create a community-led initiative, the mayor is now launching his own competing initiative,” said Dr. Robert Davis, the task force’s coordinator. “It's like a child who abandons a toy until others show interest in it, and then he wants it back. But it's too late because this initiative belongs to the community, and we will see it through to fruition.”

Lisa Calderón, who co-chaired the Community Well-Being and Neighborhood Safety Committee for Johnston’s mayoral transition, said the mayor’s timing was more than suspect.

"It was no coincidence,” Calderón said. “They intentionally put their initiative together, even though we invited them to participate in ours. And this is part of the problem that we have. When government isn't collaborating and listening to people who are most impacted by violence, then they just waste our resources.”

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Denver Taskforce to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety held a conference on their community-led initiative on Monday, May 13, 2024.

Johnston said he always planned to create the office.

“I had planned to do this as early as the campaign for mayor. I’ve been talking about it for more than a year. We've been working on it since we got into office,” Johnston said. “It was a matter of finding the right resources, the right personnel, and the right location for it to be placed."

Calderón said the city is now putting the task force in a position where it will have to compete for funding.

“There is a limited number of dollars out there, both locally and nationally, for violence prevention,” Calderón said.

Despite that, Calderón said the task force is moving ahead with its community-led initiative.

"This is a movement that the mayor can't stop or co-opt, and we are absolutely moving forward,” Calderón said.

Denver City Council’s Safety, Housing, Education & Homelessness Committee will hear from city officials and receive a more detailed presentation on the new office on Wednesday.

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