May 27, 2021 - News
"Defund the Police" debate continues in Denver, but opposition remains
Illustration collage of two hands holding divided by shapes, positioned amidst falling money and torn paper
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

In the absence of national support from Democrats, the movement to defund the police in the year since George Floyd's murder is shifting to the local level and cities like Denver.

Why it matters: The continued calls to overhaul policing in Denver come as crime reaches new highs and public safety is emerging as a potent political issue.

What's happening: Activists say city leaders have failed to take action toward meaningful change — and they're preparing for another protest-packed summer.

What they're saying: "It is going to be a hot summer, and we are going to continue to hold the feet of those who are in this city to the fire, so we see change," said Ru Johnson, a community organizer in Denver who helped develop a plan that calls for an "autonomous community-led, non-law enforcement institution" for public safety.

  • The long-term goal is to take "incremental, necessary steps to eventually get us to the abolition of the current violent police state," she told Axios.

The backdrop: Mayor Michael Hancock's administration outlined a new strategy Monday to lower rising crime rates "without overpolicing."

  • The blueprint represents an alternative to 112 recommendations from a public safety task force after the Hancock administration pulled out of talks with the group this year.

Hancock remains adamantly opposed to any cuts in police spending.

  • "I will never starve our police department of the training and the resources our officers need to combat crime ... " he said at a press conference earlier this week.
  • Plus: "It would be pretty hard to defund the police when we have a dramatic increase" in crime, police chief Paul Pazen told Axios.

The big picture: At least 20 large U.S. cities have reduced their police budgets in some form, adding up to some $840 million, and 25 have ended contracts with police operating in schools, Axios' Fadel Allassan writes.

  • The data from the progressive group Interrupting Criminalization cites Denver as a city where both took place, but the report is a little misleading.
  • The Denver police budget cuts it notes were actually pandemic-related, but officers are being phased out at schools.

What's next: The Denver City Council on Wednesday announced it will convene a panel to review the community task force's recommendations.

  • In fact, City Council President Stacie Gilmore last summer told protesters to "vote me out of office if I'm not going to do whatever I can to save Black lives."
  • It will also work to "evaluate and dismantle racism within our city's institutional and structural government systems, policies and practices," council leadership said in a statement.

Go deeper: "Defund the Police" lives on as a local movement

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