Homeless

See Denver's Promotional Documentary About a Homeless Sweep

Earlier this year, Westword and the ACLU of Colorado obtained records from various city departments that detailed a joint sweep operation of homeless encampments that took place on July 13, 2016, and used the operation code names "Night Crawler" and "River Dance."

After the sweep, multiple homeless individuals claimed to have had their belongings taken from them without due process or a means to retrieve them, a potential violation of the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful searches and seizures.

As we noted in the cover story "Denver Can Sweep the Homeless – but It Can't Sweep Away the Evidence," the city had conducted at least two previous cleanups along the Platte River that it had also dubbed "Operation River Dance."

Last year, as it turns out, the city produced a video documentary of its "River Dance" sweep along the Platte. Here's the video:



Published on YouTube from the official Denver Police Department account, the video follows some of the same police personnel who were responsible for overseeing this year's River Dance and Night Crawler operations, including Lieutenant Kevin Endling, Officer Ligea Craven and Sergeant Vincent Lombardi.

The four-minute video, which employs dramatic and foreboding music tones in the background, stresses efforts by Denver to "build relationships" with the homeless and to connect them to services like shelters.

But ironically, none of the homeless individuals interviewed have any interest in being forced inside.

When one homeless man says on camera that he feels safer and cleaner living by the river, the narrator immediately follows up by saying, "The homeless outreach team is out to change those perceptions."

"We're shining a light on that darkness," says Endling, referring to living conditions along the river.

Certainly, efforts to clean up accumulated trash, including dangerous items like needles, is a necessary service.

But the video also raises serious concerns about what constitutes trash and what constitutes a person's useful property. At one point in the film, Lombardi comes upon a tent and says, "This clearly looks abandoned. We have pooled-up water on top of these tarps, which tells me that no one has been down here for a while."

Except, of course, if it happened to rain recently, or if there was leftover dew from that morning.

So far, it does not appear that the city made a documentary for this year's "River Dance" operation.

But in the YouTube description of last year's video, there are two awards listed:

** 2016 Heartland EMMY Award Winner for Public/Current/Community Affairs - Feature/Segment**
** 2016 Regional Edward R. Murrow Award Winner for Hard News **
For more coverage of homeless issues, visit our Homeless topic page.
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Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker