Nov 15, 2021 - News
Denver refunds its police department
Data: Denver Department of Finance; Chart: Alayna Alvarez/Axios
Data: Denver Department of Finance; Chart: Alayna Alvarez/Axios

A year and a half after calls to defund the police bellowed nationwide, mostly prompted by the murder of George Floyd, Denver is spending more money than ever on law enforcement.

Why it matters: The police overhaul movement largely lost steam as violent crime surges unfolded in Denver and across the U.S.

Driving the news: Denver's 2022 budget passed by city officials this month increases spending on police to $265 million, including a new special revenue fund for police who work at the airport. That's up 6% from 2020's historically high mark before spending was slashed because of pandemic-induced budget cuts, the city's finance department tells Axios.

  • $13.6 million is dedicated to hiring new first responders, including police, fire, sheriff and 911 agencies.
  • 144 new police recruits are accounted for in the budget, nearly as many as were budgeted for in 2020 and 2021 combined.

What they're saying: "We have given the police department all they have asked for, and yet crime continues to rise," Robert Davis, head of a local task force to reimagine policing, tells Axios.

  • "Until Denver is willing to make an investment in the underlying issues that contribute to crime and violence — poverty, education, mental health, housing — [the city] will continue to get the same results," he says.

The other side: The city is using roughly $3 million to expand its Support Team Assisted Response program, which diverts certain low-level 911 calls to a team of mental health specialists instead of armed officers.

  • The budget also designates $1 million for an alternative police response team to provide emergency mental health support in Denver's two jails.

The City Council has worked "diligently" to review the recommendations provided by Davis' task force, Council President Stacie Gilmore tells Axios.

  • Members also successfully pushed through a ballot measure this month to help ensure the city's police watchdog can "truly operate independently" while investigating officer-related incidents, Gilmore notes.

Flashback: City Council leadership pledged in May to "evaluate and dismantle racism within our city's institutional and structural government systems, policies and practices."

  • Gilmore told protesters in June 2020 to "vote me out of office if I'm not going to do whatever I can to save Black lives." She tells Axios her statement still aligns with the work she and the council are pursuing.

Zoom out: Voters in Minneapolis — the city where Floyd was murdered — recently rejected a measure to overhaul the police department, marking a major blow to the police reform movement's momentum there and beyond, Axios Twin Cities' Torey Van Oot writes.

The bottom line: Despite nationwide demands to defund the police, most major U.S. cities have yet to make meaningful budget cuts, Bloomberg reports.

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