Addressing top-of-mind issues in Denver

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Safety, homelessness, sky-high housing costs. These are the three items sitting top-of-mind for most residents that call the District 6 office. Denver does not sit alone addressing these challenges, but that does not blunt our responsibility to manage them or our commitment to do so.

I was pleased to see that the mayor’s proposed budget includes $8.4 million to recruit 188 additional officers that would increase Denver Police Department’s authorized strength from the current benchmark of 1,596 to 1,639. It may take several years to get there, as law enforcement agencies across the state and the country are struggling to attract top-notch applicants. Another $1.5 million has been earmarked to increase and enhance training for sworn officers.

Our police department needs to be adequately staffed and trained to enforce the law and bring scofflaws to justice. Our courts must incarcerate those who are a danger to our community. We must honor the principle of innocent until proven guilty, and we must undo the inequitable application of the law that has people of color filling our jails in inappropriate numbers. That said, while arrest and detention does remove a criminal from the landscape for a period of time, we cannot arrest our way out of lawlessness. In order to make a significant and ongoing reduction in the crime rate, we must also intervene at the source. We need to address the epidemic of mental un-health and substance abuse that has taken hold and often fuels criminal behavior. We must reduce the pipeline of those turning to lawlessness as a way to get their needs met.

Fortunately, the mayor’s budget does have money set aside to increase mental health and drug treatment beds. Whether the amount proposed is sufficient is yet to be seen. What is at least as daunting as the needed dollars is the need for available professionals to provide the services to bring people out of crises and return them to responsible, productive members of society. I’m guessing that a couple of decades of STEM education may have contributed to the shortage of women and men wanting to devote themselves to traditionally lower-paid jobs in social services positions. We need to turn that dynamic around by offering competitive salaries for these critically needed social service professionals.

There will be big dollars aimed, as well, at increasing the supply of housing affordable to those — from the unhoused to those in the upper reaches of our work force — who cannot currently meet Denver’s cost of living. We need to accelerate the pace that these units are made available, and we must increase the percentage of affordable units from rentals to purchase. We must make it possible for those in lower income brackets to begin to build generational wealth that will change the lives of generations to come.

Finally, angry calls are coming in daily fueled by frustration at the length of time it is taking homeowners, businesses and developers to get construction projects permitted. Our plan reviewers and building inspectors are working yeoman’s hours to dent the backlog that has permits-in-waiting delayed by many months. The city has redoubled its efforts to hire added staff, and has contracted with private firms to help move the needle. I believe the city would be wise in bringing in outside eyes to have a look at our permitting processes to be sure we are making best use of personnel.

Have a great month. See you soon around the neighborhood.

Paul Kashmann represents District 6 on Denver City Council. He can be reached at paul.kashmann@denvergov.org or 720-337-6666.

Paul Kashmann, Denver City Council

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