Our questions about Hancock’s new public safety plan
Hancock’s new public safety plan
Stories of escalating crime rates and rampant drug overdoses have dominated local headlines since last summer. The numerous proposals to assess and address these issues have sparked divisive conversations on public health, over-policing, and harm reduction strategies. So last Thursday, Feb. 3, when Mayor Michael Hancock took to the podium with promises of a new multi-faceted Public Safety Action Plan, Denver waited with expectant ears.
What’s the goal?
In a nutshell, Hancock appears to be focused on addressing the presence of illegal drugs, eliminating access to illegal guns, and reversing Denver’s rising crime rates. So far, so good — I think we can mostly agree on those targets. You can read the plan in full here.
But, he emphasized, the solution isn’t going to be simple and it’s not going to be immediate: “I’m not going to allow this to continue to happen on my watch, but I also realize this is a marathon, not a sprint.”
So what’s his plan?
Among his proposed solutions, Hancock plans to bring in more police, improve police training practices, expand co-responder programs, and establish an Assessment Intake Diversion Center.
But some people have a few concerns…
The controversy behind “crime hot spots”:
Of Hancock’s suggested solutions, he seems to put the most stock in zeroing in on “crime hot spots.” Last summer, the Denver Police Department named five very specific areas of the city that appeared to experience a disproportionate amount of violent crime. In efforts to address this imbalance, the department increased officer foot patrols in those areas. Denver police and the mayor have boasted about the success of the initiative, and now, Hancock wants to designate three additional “hot spots” and increase the police force by 184 more officers.
“Data showed us in 2020 that five hot spots accounted for 49% of shootings and 26% of the homicides in our city. We were able to have dramatic decreases in four of the five hotspots,” said Police Chief Paul Pazen.
But not everyone agrees that this program has been successful. Many critics have argued that there’s no real evidence that simply increasing the number of police officers in an area has any correlation with crime reduction. Opponents also argue that this method merely leads to the over-policing of already vulnerable neighborhoods.
“Hotspots is a new iteration of broken windows that disproportionately targets [Black and Indigenous people of color],” Councilperson Candi CdeBaca recently told Denverite.
Dr. Robert Davis, head of Denver’s Task Force for Reimagining Policing and Public Safety and past City Cast Denver guest, also expressed disappointment in the city’s decision to continue to focus on “hot spots.”
“I am disappointed to see us returning to the failed policies and practices that the global George Floyd protests were demanding cities move away from,” Davis said. “The Task Force gave Denver a roadmap to improving safety, but it appears Mayor Hancock and his Department of Safety have chosen political expediency over community solutions.”
Why aren’t we talking about harm reduction?
Another of Hancock’s approaches that’s raising eyebrows is his plan for tackling illegal substance use. Hancock says his office is looking at “every tool” available to combat substance use issues and drug-related crimes.
Denver’s newly appointed public safety director Armando Saldate has said: “We know we aren’t going to arrest our way out of this problem. … I think it’s time we take the public health lens to the work that we do in public safety.”
And so, Hancock is greenlighting the establishment of an Assessment Intake Diversion Center where police can take people they believe are in need of mental health support or who are having substance use issues rather than sending them to jail. Here, arrestees will be evaluated and connected with case management services.
But people like Lisa Raville, executive director of the Harm Reduction Action Center and past City Cast Denver guest, are wondering: If the city is willing to consider “every tool,” why are the calls for overdose prevention or safe injection sites still going ignored?
In response to Raville’s question, some might point to Hancock’s “firm compassion” approach to Denver’s substance use crisis. “Sometimes, the best way to help [people who use drugs] is by closing the portals on them and letting them know we are bringing a firm reaction to the action they bring on the streets,” he said.
“Prohibition and criminalization have brought us fentanyl and other synthetic opioids,” Raville said. “Harm reduction initiatives increase public safety, criminalization simply does not.”
Have questions? Us too.
The mayor’s plan still left us with a lot of questions about reducing crime – and we want to hear from you. What questions do you have for Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen? Share your thoughts and suggestions with us by email Denver@CityCast.fm or by texting or calling our voicemail line: 720-500-5418.
— Peyton Garcia, City Cast Denver Newsletter Writer
OTHER ODDS AND ENDS
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🧐 Still catching up? Check out yesterday’s newsletter and podcast for a breakdown of this messy situation.
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💬 Jackson says: “I’m humbled because I know that I walked on the path paved by those before me and grateful to those who supported me on my journey to forge greater opportunities within the legal field.”
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