Nov 14, 2022 - News

Denver deploys dedicated team to curb crime downtown

Illustration of a security camera topped with police car lights

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Denver leaders are looking to law enforcement and mental health specialists to improve downtown's "unsafe" reputation.

Why it matters: Crime is driving out businesses and large-scale conventions at a time when downtown Denver struggles to bring workers and tourists back to pre-pandemic levels.

  • "The reality is we are losing conventions" and companies "as we market our city β€” and people have chosen not to come to downtown Denver," Mayor Michael Hancock said at a news briefing Thursday.

What's happening: Denver is deploying a "downtown action team," first announced in April, which will bring a bigger police presence, more substance misuse specialists, graffiti and trash cleanup, and enhanced security features, like lighting, to the heart of the city.

  • The plan will initially focus on curbing criminal activity, homelessness and drug use around the Colorado Convention Center β€” where crime is up 5% compared to the three-year average, and drug- and alcohol-related offenses are soaring 60%, per city officials.
  • The mayor said the crackdown mirrors an effort earlier this year at Union Station, where neighborhood advocates say safety improvements have been made as a result of more than 1,200 arrests and citations largely related to low-level drug crimes.

Details: Denver Police chief Ron Thomas said the number of officers assigned to the Convention Center corridor will depend "on the day and situation," but declined to provide more information.

  • City officials remain murky on other specifics, including the size of the team, how much it will cost, and which metrics will be used to measure success β€” though officials said every agency involved will track data.

What they're saying: Much of downtown's rebound will be assessed by "intangible" factors, said Kourtny Garrett, head of the Denver Downtown Partnership.

  • "It's the vibrancy of the street. It's having people back in our restaurants, it's having our employees back, it's getting the energy back in downtown Denver," she said.

The other side: Some business owners in the area say the crime crackdown should've come sooner.

  • "We've been complaining about problems downtown the last couple of years, ever since COVID started. It's November 2022, and we're really addressing this now?" Chris Fuselier, owner of Blake Street Tavern in LoDo, told CBS4.

What to watch: It's unclear whether the latest plan to reduce crime in Denver will lead to a boom in business and Colorado Convention Center bookings.

  • Hancock's term-limited tenure also ends next year, calling into question whether a new mayor will keep the plan in place.

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