By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
The surge produced between twenty and forty arrests in LoDo every weekend — mostly black or Hispanic males, on charges ranging from public fighting to owning a pit bull. Some critics complained that the cops were provoking confrontations by bum-rushing people, ordering them off public sidewalks, trying to empty LoDo like it was some kind of occupied zone. Club owners griped that the heavy-handed tactics were an overblown response to an overhyped and isolated event ("Where the Wilding Things Are," July 22, 2004). Worse, the crackdown was scaring away business and demonizing the hip-hop clubs, when many of the people causing problems weren't even patrons of the clubs; they were the cheap thugs hanging out in the parking lots.
By working with club owners and community groups, Dilley eventually was able to replace the riot squad with a more cooperative — and arguably more effective — approach. Denver has certain advantages over other cities trying to get a handle on their late-night entertainment districts, notably the availability of off-duty officers to work in the clubs. Although they were being paid by the clubs, Dilley ordered those officers to stick around until 2:30 a.m. to assist in maintaining some semblance of order. She encouraged club owners to stagger their Let Out times so the entire horde wasn't hitting the street all at once; Club Bash was one of the first to comply, moving last call to 1:15 a.m. And LoDo began to see more foot patrols and street closures, designed to discourage cruising, curtail simmering fights and steer the blottoed into cabs.
But the privately owned parking lots remained a sore point — especially the one in the 1800 block of Market Street, the lot closest to Bash. Hiring security guards and getting lot operators to file trespassing complaints "resulted in a decrease in shots fired and weapons-related offenses but has shown no significant decrease in general conduct-related infractions," Lieutenant Davis reported to Dilley in a 2004 memo. "Limited District resources have hindered the ability to adequately address the problem."
To Dilley's distress, the security guards soon disappeared from the lot. When she called a representative of the parking lot operator to ask why, she was told "that they felt it was too big of a liability issue," she later recalled in a deposition. "I then [asked], Did he not think that things that were happening, like fights and shootings and stuff in that parking lot, were also a liability for him? His response was no, that they were willing to accept that."
That fall, Central Parking System took over the lot from Interpark. The operator of more than 2,500 parking facilities across the country, Central didn't see any need for security guards, either. Instead, the company allowed its attendants to leave around 1 a.m. on weekends and eventually closer to midnight, essentially ceding the lot to whomever wanted to park there for free around Let Out. Central didn't join in the DPD's effort to develop a "no-trespass" program for the lots, and company reps were later conspicuously absent from task-force meetings discussing LoDo parking lot issues.
In her deposition, Dilley, who retired earlier this year, admitted that she didn't personally engage the new operators in conversations about security needs; dealing with the previous operator had been "like beating my head against the wall," she said. But other police officers had talked to Central employees about the incidents that went down in the lot after they left at night, and Dilley thought management surely had to be aware that the lot was a dangerous place at Let Out.
"I just can't believe that they would not know what was going on in the lot," she said. "It was in the newspapers...it was a buzz everywhere...plus with [the] comments of your own employees who were afraid of being in that lot, there had to be some discussion going on within Central."
Police gained access to a rooftop overlooking the lot and sometimes conducted surveillance from there. Once in a while, foot patrols or a SWAT team would sweep through the area. The DPD even parked its paddy wagon at the corner of 19th and Market, trying to discourage trouble in the immediate area. But Dilley couldn't devote full-time police attention to a single parking lot, and the violence continued. (At one point Bash's Bertinelli suggested that his club might pay for security in the lot, but the idea was never pursued.)
Not all of the weirdness in the 1800 block of Market ended up generating a police report; if there was no identifiable victim, no witnessed crime, there might not be an actual report. But Daren Ciempa, who took over as the graveyard-shift lieutenant in LoDo in 2007, found the bad juju there spiking just about every weekend. He'd barely started in his new post when a report came in of shots fired in the parking lot — while his officers happened to be patrolling the lot. Over the next six months, there were at least half a dozen reports of shots fired in the 1800 block of Market, maybe as many as ten.
The Central lot had become a place to hold an impromptu tailgate party if you couldn't afford the bar prices for liquor. It was also a useful weapons stash. And fights were frequent — sometimes several in the same night.