Urban camping ban: Denver Police outline enforcement protocol
The Denver Police Department has released the training bulletin that details how officers should approach violations of the city's new urban camping ban. Before the ordinance goes into effect May 29, officers are partnering with homeless outreach workers to prepare a department-wide response that de-prioritizes the status of homeless individuals and focuses on offering resources instead. Click through to read the manual in full.
On May 14, Denver City Council voted nine to four in favor of passing the ban, which Mayor Michael Hancock signed in the following days. But supporters of the ordinance previously added room into its schedule to allow for more extensive training, delaying its date of action until a week from today. During more than a month of discussions leading up the approval, Chief Robert White has repeatedly stressed that citations and arrests should be a last resort.
On the outside looking in at a Denver City Council urban camping hearing.
Photo by Kelsey Whipple
"From a law enforcement perspective, the absolute, unequivocally last thing we want to do as a police department is arrest someone for a camping violation," DPD chief Robert White said during a panel presentation in front of the Inter-Neighborhood Council. He stressed a case-by-case approach to enforcement. In his words, "As a very last resort, we have the option of citing or arresting," but he stressed the intention to avoided it, especially in times when no city shelter space is available.
Although Councilwoman Robin Kniech pushed early on to have this goal included in the ordinance's official language, she backed down when city attorneys pointed out legal complications that could result. Instead, the training bulletin itself echoes White's language, urging that the ordinance "does not make the status of homeless illegal.... A person's status of being homeless is irrelevant to the determination of whether the ordinance is violated."
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However, some city officials remain skeptical that the training suggestions will go far enough to prevent citation, which White promises will occur only at the approval of a supervisor during the ban's first year. At the final council meeting regarding the ban, Councilwoman Susan Shepherd told the audience, "You have the power to hold the proponents of this bill accountable. You better watch these suckers like a hawk."
Across six pages, two of which outline the new protocol on a flow chart, the bulletin describes the implications of the crime and the signs of how to identify it. Camping is defined as residing or dwelling with some form of shelter, and those who conduct the act "must indicate more permanence than merely sleeping on a park bench or sunbathing in a park. The officer must look at the totality of the circumstances."
Indicative behaviors could include lighting a campfire, preparing food, using a sleeping bag or tent and a handful of other actions, rather than just lying down in a park. That action, however, is already covered in the city's sit-lie ordinance. If someone is residing in an area without shelter, he or she is not violating the ban. Cooking alone is not a violation, for example, but cooking while lying on a newspaper bed could be.
Once officers identify a violation, they must assess the health needs of the individual who commits it and follow a course of documentation that includes both a verbal and a written warning.
View the full protocol below in the official training bulletin:
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