Feb 22, 2021 - News

Scoop: Denver's mayor shifts strategy on homeless sweeps

A man experiencing homelessness argues with a Denver police officer during an encampment sweep. Photo: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Denver is taking law enforcement out of the equation when it comes to breaking up homeless encampments, Mayor Michael Hancock tells Axios.

Why it matters: "We have seen through our research across the country that, obviously, it heightens tensions when police move in first," Hancock said in an interview.

  • Context: Clashes between police and protesters armed with cell phone cameras have become the norm during homeless camp sweeps, with some confrontations turning violent and others interfering with the breakup of sites altogether.

Driving the news: Hancock has directed his team to create a "compassion or civilian corps" to clean up tent cities, instead of armed police officers, he said.

  • The team of trained professionals would warn people sleeping on the streets that campsites are illegal and connect them to the social services they need.
  • Hancock’s spokesman clarified later Monday that police would still be involved in sweeps — but won't act as first responders.

Flashback: Last month, a legal challenge prompted a federal judge to rule that city officials must give residents at least seven days advance notice.

The state of play: Service providers agree that the strategy shift is a welcomed step.

  • The solution is one of many that advocates have been requesting for years, citing research that shows not using police in sensitive situations involving people with mental health issues yields better results.

Yes, but: "The devil is always in the details," Colorado Coalition for the Homeless spokesperson Cathy Alderman told Alayna.

  • "That connection to services has to be meaningful," she stressed. "It has to be realistic for the person who you're talking to, not realistic for a population for which you believe should accept a certain kind of service."

Editor's note: This piece has been updated to include a clarification from Hancock's spokesman.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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