Jan 18, 2024 - News

How Denver is funding its yellow vest safety campaign

The yellow Cotopaxi vests that Denver's 650 new city "ambassadors" will wear downtown. Photos via Mayor Mike Johnston's Instagram account

Before Denver Mayor Mike Johnston launched his new downtown safety campaign this month, his aides went shopping.

Driving the news: The new downtown "ambassadors" clearing sidewalks of homeless encampments and trash are sporting hip fleece vests from Utah-based outdoor brand Cotopaxi, all purchased with pandemic relief money.

  • Ambassadors — made up of nonprofit workers, city employees, council members, private security guards, and downtown advocates — are intended to offer information and support, from helping someone connect to services to getting them home safely after a ball game.

By the numbers: Johnston's administration ordered 650 Cotopaxi vests for $78.50 a pop, totaling about $51,000, the mayor's spokesperson Jordan Fuja tells us.

  • The half-puffer, half-fleece vests were funded with federal COVID relief money intended for downtown safety and activation from the American Rescue Plan Act, Fuja says.

Why it matters: How Denver is spending what's left of the unprecedented, one-time infusion of federal dollars raises questions about whether it will deliver the results local officials are betting on.

What they're saying: This approach "feels like deja vu," City Cast Denver podcast host Bree Davies said last week, citing the city's effort in 2022 to deploy a "downtown action team" to revitalize the area.

  • "It was like the same conversation we're still having and we're still having the same problems — so I just don't see how this is going to solve that same issue," Davies added.

The big picture: The ambassador program is just one part of Johnston's six-pronged approach to making downtown cleaner and safer — a campaign that largely builds on initiatives started under former Mayor Michael Hancock.

  • Other elements of Johnston's plan include expanding the reach of the city's Clean & Safe smartphone app, which allows people to report problems downtown, improving coordination between the city and outside partners, and activating more businesses in the area.
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