Inside the New 16th Street Mall Private-Sector Security Plan

A new private-sector security plan for the 16th Street Mall, which includes the hiring of guards who'll be on duty as soon as this afternoon, has just been unveiled by the Downtown Denver Partnership and the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District. It's the latest effort to address problems at one of the city's most popular tourist attractions.

A series of violent incidents on the mall in recent months raised safety questions about the iconic area and prompted a late-June announcement about the Denver Police Department's approach to keeping the mall safe.

As we've noted, the DPD promised that its "Walking the Beat" program would "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."

Since then, however, there have been reports about the DPD struggling to keep its staffing-level pledge, not to mention several more high-profile crimes committed in the area, at least two of which were caught on video. First, a man was recorded attacking passersby with a length of PVC pipe. Then, a clip from earlier this month showed a victim beaten unconscious, as well as police arriving too late to take anyone into custody.

Hence the launch of what Downtown Denver Partnership president and CEO Tami Door calls "a security action plan — a private-sector plan committed to addressing the creation of a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment in our center city, with a particular focus on the 16th Street Mall."

The strategy includes bringing aboard a new plan manager and addressing a whopping 240 "action items" that encompass concerns related to infrastructure, communication and what she refers to as "the overall operation and management of the space." For instance, she notes that the Downtown Denver Partnership, in conjunction with the improvement district, has now "master-permitted several of the alleys on the 16th Street Mall, which allows us to insure that they're monitored, secured and managed."

Still, the biggest change will be the introduction of the new security team, made up of personnel supplied by Allied Universal, a firm based in Lakewood. When asked how many folks have been hired, Door declines to provide a precise total because "the number is going to vary based on need. It's going to vary by time of day and day of week, and it will change as we learn what works and what doesn't work. We'll adjust it based on the respective needs."

Right now, however, team members will be deployed "between Civic Center Station and Arapahoe Street, with the three blocks around Skyline Park as a primary focus," Door points out. "And they'll be out there 24/7."

She emphasizes that "our private security in no way supplants the police in any way, shape or form, and we won't base how many private security officers we put out there on how many police officers are there. Our role is to be an additional resource to the community at large and very good supporters of the police's efforts. We'll work very closely with them to communicate what we're hearing and seeing on the mall. We're a complement to the police, but as far as law enforcement goes, that is absolutely the police department's responsibility."

Indeed, none of the private security officers will be armed, even though one of their charges is to confront any law-breakers they see.

"They will engage individuals who are violating city ordinances or state statutes to let them know they're in violation of the law," Door says, "and they will ask them to voluntarily comply. So if someone is breaking the law, they'll approach them and say, 'What you're doing is illegal and you need to stop this. Otherwise, I'll have to report this to the police.'"

Given what one of our readers described as roving gangs of drug-using vagabonds who've been frequenting the mall of late, this approach could be a challenge. But Door notes that the guards will also "direct individuals in need of social services to the appropriate resources and provide a welcoming presence to the community. They'll engage with residents, visitors and workers along the mall and will play a key role in communicating with businesses, property owners and other private security already working downtown."

Door isn't concerned about a backlash against too many guards and police officers on the mall; she cites a recent Partnership study that showed people are actually reassured by "a uniformed presence in urban environments. It lets you know that someone is keeping an eye on things — that it's a secure space where you can feel welcome and comfortable, and that actual crime is being prevented or addressed through better reporting and engagement."

At the same time, Door stresses that she doesn't want the mall's distinctive character to be Disneyfied out of existence. "We're an urban environment, and we want to make sure we create a space that reflects our community as a whole," she says. "That's what's cool about cities — the beauty of what makes downtown so great."

Not that Door is attempting to shrug off problems in the area.

"Things are happening that are not okay," she allows. "But the private sector is stepping up to provide another resource. When you're working to build a great city, the public sector has a role, but the private sector does, too — and these are ways the private sector can support that goal."

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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