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

Task force leaders say they are tired of waiting for the city to act
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Posted at 5:40 PM, Feb 16, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-16 21:38:16-05

DENVER — Leaders of a task force focused on reimagining policing in Denver say they are tired of waiting for the city to implement one of their key recommendations and plan to move forward with their own initiative.

They plan to establish a community-led think tank that will develop ideas to improve safety in neighborhoods across the city.

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd in 2020, Denver leaders promised change. But almost four years later, community members say the city hasn’t done enough.

“We have a long, long way to go,” said Robert Davis, executive director of the Denver Task Force to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety.

The task force was formed amid the 2020 protests. It made dozens of recommendations, including the creation of an Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS).

City officials, including Denver Mayor Mike Johnston, have signaled their support for such an office, but the city has yet to create one.

“Initially, we asked the city to stand up the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Violence Prevention, and the city decided not to put it in its budget,” said Davis.

This week during a city council meeting, Armando Saldate, director of the Denver Department of Public Safety, which includes the Denver Police Department, said he still supports the concept.

“I know that we're going to continue the dialog no matter what, no matter our budget environment. You can count on my commitment to support it,” Saldate said, adding that he has researched similar programs in cities across the nation.

In a statement on Friday, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety said, “The administration is currently considering options for where a potential ONS could reside and the Department of Public Safety looks forward to supporting the office and its work regardless of where it is located.”

Despite the signals of support from city leaders, community members say they’re tired of waiting for the city to act.

“In this time where folks are so concerned about safety for many different reasons, we feel it's really important to have community investment,” said community leader Lisa Calderon. "If it’s not going to come from the city, it's going to come from us.”

Calderon chaired the Community Wellbeing and Neighborhood Safety committee for Johnston's mayoral transition. The committee recommended the city create the Community Alternatives, Partnerships, and Solutions (CAPS) Office, which would have operated as an Office of Neighborhood Safety.

Because the city has not acted, the task force plans to establish a CAPS Office of its own, though this one would be entirely community-run. Davis said it would be a think tank of policy advocates, community organizers, researchers and activists that would develop ideas to help people make their neighborhoods safer through a non-law enforcement lens.

“It's not to cut law enforcement out, but it is rather to elevate the voices and the thinking and the solutions that are already in the community,” said Davis.

In October 2023, Johnston rejected a recommendation from the Denver City Council to spend $1.5 million in the 2024 budget to establish an Office of Neighborhood Safety. In his rejection letter, Johnston said the office was “a priority of this administration.”

On Friday, Denver7 asked the mayor’s office if he still supported an Office of Neighborhood Safety and whether he believed it would work better inside or outside of city government.

“Mayor Johnston is evaluating this proposal and working with stakeholders to understand the impacts,” said Jordan Fuja, the mayor’s press secretary.

The task force also plans to launch a public dashboard with data about traffic stops and how cases are handled in the criminal justice system. Saldate said the city is working to provide the task force with data for the dashboard.

“[We’ve] have been opening the books for that data,” said Saldate. “We want to help the success of this.”

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