DENVER — Several different departments dedicated to public health and safety in Denver presented to city council on Wednesday to address the increase in crime in the community and potential solutions.
During the meeting, the public safety challenges facing the city were categorized as follows:
- Significant statewide increase in crime
- Proliferation of illegal firearms
- Cheap and deadly drugs
- Youth violence and easy access to weapons
- Repeat offenders
Then, points from the public safety action plan were outlined:
- Preventing crime and improving policing
- Addressing guns on the street
- Expanding behavioral health responses and alternatives to police
- Recruiting and retaining law enforcement officers
- Engaging with state lawmakers
During the presentation, it was estimated that 20% of weekly Denver jail bookings are people with a mental health or suicide alert who usually have lower-level charges than those without such alerts.
“I was in the jail every day dealing with individuals with severe persistent mental illness who were cycling in and out of jail frequently," said Carleigh Sailon, who previously worked within the detention facility. “Jail is not meant for recovery. Jail is meant for people who commit crimes.”
Now, Sailon works for the Support Team Assisted Response Program, which is a civilian response program pairing a mental health clinician with a paramedic or EMT. The team responds to low-risk, low-acuity 911 calls.
“We're really trying to look at people's problems from a holistic approach and recognize that there isn't a one-size-fits-all plan," Sailon said. “To equate behavioral health or substance misuse with the rise in crime, I think, would be incorrect.”
One of the initiatives in the 2022 safety plan is expanding support team assisted response and co-responder programs, like STAR.
“The critical thing is looking at preventing crime," Denver City Councilmember Paul Kashmann said. “We need to send the proper resources in the proper direction.”
For the Denver Police Department, that means maintaining and expanding their hot spot place-based policing, expanding support services and alternative responses and improving recruitment and retention.
Set to launch in the summer of 2022, the Assessment, Intake, Diversion Center is meant to fill a gap in resources. It is designed as a one-stop shop that is part of a continuum of services for people in crisis.
The AID Center will allow people arrested for low-level crimes to be directly connected to resources and case management rather than booked into jail. Individuals will also be able to walk in to the center to directly connect with resources in a centralized location.
The AID Center will be located at 14th Avenue and Elati Street across from the jail.