Denver's Top Block for Arrests and an Advocate's Take on 16th Street Mall Safety

Editor's note: This is the second in a three-part series looking at violence on the 16th Street Mall. To read part one, featuring a Good Samaritan's story of helping a stabbing victim, click here.

A weekend stabbing on the 16th Street Mall that led to two arrests wasn't an isolated incident.

Multiple stabbings have taken place in the area of late — and there's a growing belief among many visitors that the mall is becoming more dangerous. "I've probably been down to the mall five or six times over probably the last five to six years," says Arvada's Erin Chalmers, who aided the latest stabbing victim, "and each time, it's been progressively worse."

Data seems to back up these concerns. Between June 4 and June 18, according to the Denver Crime Map, which compiles police data for every neighborhood in the city, the 800 block of the 16th Street Mall, between Stout and Champa (not far from 16th and California, where the latest stabbing took place), had more arrests and/or citations than any other block in the city — 25 over that two-week span.

These numbers are understandably concerning to Tami Door, president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership, an organization whose missions include promoting the mall. But she feels they need to be put into context.

For one thing, Door points out, most of the crimes committed on the block during the period noted above, listed individually on page two of this post, were fairly minor. While a couple of robberies and an assault took place, many of the busts involved offenses such as shoplifting, larceny, illegal drug-and-alcohol possession and giving false information to a police officer.

In addition, Door believes that when it comes to the 16th Street Mall, perception and reality aren't always the same thing.

"In any large city, there are times when individuals feel unsafe, uncomfortable, in their respective settings," she says. "And research shows that individuals are more likely to feel less safe or less comfortable in our center city — and that includes the mall. But it's important not to separate individual streets and zones. You have to look at the environment holistically.

"When a police officer writes a ticket, the address is where they end up," she continues. "The incident may have actually happened a couple of blocks away. And you have to look at the data in proportion to the volume. The central blocks of the 16th Street Mall are some of the busiest blocks in the entire state."

With that said, Door makes it clear that the Downtown Denver Partnership isn't simply shrugging off safety concerns on the mall.

"We've created a comprehensive security plan" assembled in the wake of a 2015 survey, Door points out. "We believe it's the responsibility of the private and the public sector to address aspects of our center city that impact safety and the perception of safety, and this plan addresses many aspects of creating a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment — components like making sure the lighting is appropriate for the time of day.

"The city has recently committed to replacing all the lights on the 16th Street Mall, and we've funded lighting in alleys along the mall — and we've also issued an RFP [Request for Proposal] to hire a private security firm for downtown. That will create an extra set of eyes and ears on the street. They'll perform an ambassador-type role to be able to report situations they see, but they'll also provide an additional uniformed presence that will send a strong message that we're all working together to make sure you feel safe in this environment."

In Door's view, "it is critical that the city is both safe and perceived as safe — which are different things, but both very important. That's why the Downtown Denver Partnership is advocating for public resources but also working with property owners, encouraging them to do anything they can to impact the environment in a positive, welcoming manner.

"Many people feel unsafe on the 16th Street Mall," she acknowledges, "but the crime data doesn't reflect that they are unsafe. It just doesn't reflect that."

Continue to see the list of 25 crimes listed for the 800 block of the 16th Street Mall between June 4 and June 18, illustrated with images by photographer Patrick Hart of the weekend stabbing scene near 16th and California.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts