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Denver mayor's budget calls for more police, expanded mental health services

City council begins budget hearings to review Mayor Mike Johnston's proposals
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Posted at 4:59 PM, Sep 18, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-18 19:28:22-04

DENVER — As budget season kicks into high gear at Denver City Hall, the mayor and council members will try to figure out how much to spend to keep Denver safe. They’ll also consider how much to invest in traditional public safety programs, mental health services and jail alternatives.

Mayor Mike Johnston laid out his vision last week, as part of his $1.7 billion proposed budget. It’s the first budgetproposed by a new mayor in 12 years.

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Local News

Mayor Johnston 2024 budget would add 167 more officers to Denver streets

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It comes at a time when residents throughout the city are worried about violence, which was consistently listed as a top concern among voters during the mayoral election earlier this year.

“[Last year] represented a historic high in crime across the city. It's some of the highest rates of crime we've seen in almost 20 years, both from violent crime, from property crimes, from homicide. And we plan to turn that around,” Johnston said.

According to a city auditor's report, Denver was 100 officers short of its authorized strength in 2022. The report said continuous understaffing puts a strain on officers and makes it difficult for them to promptly respond to 911 calls, as well as non-emergency calls.

"We know this has been a major crisis. We don't have enough officers to do their work and respond to the calls that residents have,” said Johnston.

The mayor wants to spend $8.2 million to add 167 new police recruits, which he said will put the Denver Police Department on the path to meet its full authorized strength.

“That is also the largest number of new officers we brought on in nearly 20 years in the city, which we think will both help make sure we have the resources we need and help make sure we're deploying officers to the places where they can be their highest and best use,” said Johnston.

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Denver auditor's report shows the Denver Police Department's turnover rate fell slightly in 2022 but increased substantially since 2020. The workforce capacity has also been on the decline.

But not everyone thinks more officers is the answer.

“We've learned in the past that we keep increasing the staffing of our police department, but it's not showing up in a reduction of crime,” said Denver City Councilman Paul Kashmann.

Kashmann told Denver7 he’s more interested in looking at what the mayor’s budget will do to address the root causes of crime.

“I've spoken with the district attorney, the city attorney, our previous police chief, the chief judge. Everybody will tell you that we can't arrest our way out of crime,” said Kashmann. “I firmly believe that we've got to stop the pipeline of people we keep generating, that have no other way to get there or feel they have no other way to get their needs met than by turning to crime.”

He’s pleased to see Johnston wants to spend about $15 million to expand programs that provide help to people suffering from a mental health crisis, limit their interactions with police and provide them with alternatives to jail.

One of those programs is the Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) program, which sends mental health professionals and paramedics to non-violent calls instead of police. STAR has responded to more than 10,000 calls since it began in 2020.

“It's taking a lot of weight off our traditional police officers and putting that on the shoulders of people more appropriately trained to deal with mental health issues,” said Kashmann.

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Denver Mayor Mike Johnston's proposed 2024 budget aims to revitalize downtown

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6:40 AM, Sep 18, 2023

Johnston wants to expand STAR by adding more staff and vans.

In addition, the mayor’s proposed budget would include $1.8 million to pay for a second Wellness Winnie, a mobile unit that provides mental health services to people in need across Denver.

Johnston also wants to spend about $7 million on treatment alternatives. This includes $3 million to add 90 beds to community corrections facilities and $4.2 million to help create a Behavioral Health Solutions Center to help people experiencing behavioral health issues.

Council members will get a more in-depth look at the mayor’s public safety budget on Thursday when representatives from the police department, sheriff’s office, department of safety, and fire departments will present their budget proposals.

Denver mayor's budget calls for more police, expanded mental health services

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