DENVER (KDVR) — In less than a month, Denver expects to deploy a team of civilians to enforce the city’s camping ban. Officials said writing citations will be the team’s last resort. The objective is to connect the unhoused to resources. The pilot program is the city’s latest attempt to take police officers out of certain situations.
The team is already being trained as new hires at Denver’s Department of Safety. They should be hitting the streets by mid-October with a focus on unauthorized camping, officials said.
“Frankly, we have seen an uptick in crime in and around these homeless encampments,” said Denver Department of Safety Executive Director Murphy Robinson.
Robinson told council members on Sept. 15 that the team will focus on low-level crime that includes camping– but also property damage, littering, trespassing and obstructing streets. In fact, there are currently 20 ordinances the team will be allowed to enforce. They will not be able to make arrests.
20 ordinances civilian team can enforce:
- Failure to obey a lawful order
- False information
- Violation of court orders
- Destruction of public property
- Destruction of private property
- Obstruction of streets or other public passageways
- Unauthorized camping
- Urinating or defecating in public
- Possession of graffiti materials prohibited
- Violation of park rules and regulations
- Park curfews and closures
- Destruction of park property
- Possession or consumption of marijuana
- Illegal dumping
- Parking enforcement
- Electric scooter enforcement
- Damaging trees on public property
- Unauthorized use of trees on public property
“It’s the first of its kind in Denver,” Robinson said. “[We’re] trying to set a tone for what we will accept and will not accept in our [city].”
The move comes as Denver police are dealing with an increase in crime and a reduction in resources, according to officials. Meanwhile, the city said the call volume regarding encampment complaints is growing.
“I am encouraged by the fact that we are transitioning away from having armed officers respond to every situation,” said Dr. Robert Davis, project coordinator of the Denver task force to reimagine policing and public safety.
Davis said he has some concerns with what’s being called the Street Enforcement Team.
“There was not community involvement in the development of this pilot program,” he said.
Davis is worried that the civilians will not be under the watchful eye of the Independent Monitor. He is also concerned that those suffering homelessness could face even more hardship by being cited.
The team will receive crisis intervention, de-escalation and drug overdose training. They will not be involved in large cleanups that require a court ordered 7-day notice, but rather, smaller camps that the city has determined do not need notice.
Councilwoman Robin Kniech voiced concern that some of the ordinances the team can enforce seem to go too far– such as failure to obey a lawful order, giving false information and violating court orders.
“These do not feel appropriate for [a] civilian enforcement team to me,” Kniech said during a council committee meeting. “I’m just struggling with it.”
Robinson responded to Kniech. “I just wanted to say point well taken,” he said. “And I think that’s something we need to review immediately.”
The department of safety said it is working to have body cameras for the civilians. Robinson and his team promise to track the pilot program’s performance and report back to council.