After a series of highly publicized acts of violence on the 16th Street Mall, including a recent stabbing and an assault captured on video, the Denver Police Department, Downtown Denver Partnership and Downtown Denver Business Improvement District have unveiled their year-in-the-making plan to maintain order at the city's number-one tourist destination.
Starting this week, and at the cost of $396,000, the Denver Police Department's "Walking the Beat" program will triple to include sixteen additional off-duty officers who will patrol the mall. Eight officers will be permanently assigned to one of the most active areas — the 400 through 900 blocks — with two permanently stationed in the 800 block alone. In plainclothes and in uniform, they will either walk or ride bicycles or motorcycles. To supplement their efforts, the Downtown Denver Partnership and the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District are in the process of interviewing private security firms, which would provide unarmed security guards. The organizations hope to hire a company by July and plan on spending $1 million a year on the security guards as well as "ambassadors," who would act as liaisons between business owners and officers.
Additionally, businesses are being encouraged to contact police when any crime occurs, no matter how small, and to delineate their property clearly so that officers can more effectively determine when someone is trespassing. The various dispensaries in the area will be asked to stop selling single joints in an effort to avoid attracting a certain clientele, and police will enforce "area restrictions," which means repeat offenders of the law won't be allowed to return to the mall. Alleys will be permitted to only allow emergency services and trash collection.
The coalition will assess the plan's effectiveness in September.
Speaking at the announcement of the plan on Monday, Denver Chief of Police Robert White admitted to the possibility of simply displacing the offenders, referred to as "urban travelers."
Mayor Michael Hancock said he was at a mayor's conference promoting Denver when he caught word of a Fox31 video in which a man was violently confronted, allegedly by a "traveler." The video made Hancock "sick to my stomach," he said.
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"I know people who will try to twist who and what we are talking about here today, but I want to be crystal clear," Hancock continued. "We're not talking about Denver's homeless. We're talking about groups of people hanging out in the mall area, what we call urban travelers. They are trying to push the limits of our laws, and they are intimidating those who want to enjoy the mall."
Since many urban travelers come with dogs, animal control is being asked to step up its license checks, White said.
In response to a question about the plan potentially creating a police state, Downtown Denver Partnership President and CEO Tami Door said patrons of the 16th Street Mall will welcome more officers.
A survey conducted by the DDP showed that respondents overwhelmingly wanted to see more officers on the mall. "[A police state] is not an issue in our minds whatsoever," Door said. "The public seeks and desires more eyes and ears on the street."