In October 2016, LIFE reported Colfax Ave Business Improvement District (Colfax Ave BID) was using $30,000 of its budget to fund extra patrols on Colfax in an attempt to stem crime along the …
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In October 2016, LIFE reported Colfax Ave Business Improvement District (Colfax Ave BID) was using $30,000 of its budget to fund extra patrols on Colfax in an attempt to stem crime along the “iconic Denver strip.” Frank Locantore, Executive Director of Colfax Ave BID, said the patrols, conducted collaboratively by off duty Denver Police Department (DPD) officers and private security firm Mile High Protective Services, specifically focused on the “hot spot area” around Ogden Street and Colfax Avenue.
The money used to fund the patrols was allocated to show that dedicated patrols were needed along Colfax. “$30,000 doesn’t go a long way; so the goal was to prove the concept and we specifically wanted it to be not in a patrol car, but either by foot or by bike,” Locantore says.
Officers James Harvey and Aaron Carlson at the corner of Colfax Avenue and Clarkson Street. Denver Police Department has recently invested in its bike patrols, purchasing numerous new bikes and ensuring a pool of bike mechanics are available as needed. Photo by Sara Hertwig.
Patrols stopped into businesses, frequently letting business owners know they were out and, according to Locantore, the increased attention by police was effective in dispersing crime from the area of focus. While incidents of crime did not cease, it was enough to highlight a need.
DPD officers Aaron Carlson and James Harvey, both in their fourth year as Denver police officers, have been on dedicated bike patrol of the 400-600 blocks of East Colfax since September 2016. Harvey says that one of the benefits of being on bikes is officers are more approachable. “A lot of people see us more; citizens, business owners, and they’re more apt to approach us. We talk to a lot more people this way, versus being in the car." Referencing data provided by the DPD crime analyst, Carlson says "[t]here is not a certain pattern of criminal events anymore on Colfax. It’s kind of scattered out, which tells us that we are making some sort of an impact.”
Officer Harvey says one area where he has noticed a change since beginning dedicated patrols is on Logan Street, near an elevated parking area between 14th Street and Colfax. “When we first started this back in September, every single day, we would get calls from neighbors about people loitering, doing narcotics, selling narcotics, drinking, urinating in the alley. Since then, there is really nobody there anymore. For the most part, everyone is just walking through that area now. You don’t have the large, 10-15 person groups. Before, the crime map showed just one big hot spot right in that area, and now that has dispersed out.”
The DPD Crime Map shows arrests involving drugs and alcohol and public disorder have increased overall. The increase, Locantore says, is a result of the increased patrols “addressing issues that were not getting addressed when no one was there.” From April through August 2015, there were 61 arrests made between the 400 and 600 blocks of Colfax. During the same period in 2016, arrests increased to 67. From September 2016 to January 2017, when officers Carlson and Harvey began dedicated patrols, the number of arrests increased to 83.
While the officers are not naive about the idea that patrolling specific areas can disperse crime to other areas, they are committed to helping those they interact with by directing them to resources and creating relationships. “Our main goal isn’t just to disperse the problem, that’s really not effective," Carlson says. "One of our big goals is to change their behavior, try to get them into treatment programs, try to get them into housing, offer them an alternative to just being on East Colfax.”
The officers embrace the idea that, in addition to enforcement, keeping the community safe requires an empathetic approach and they see themselves as the “eyes on the street” for agencies such as Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, Colorado Crisis Center and drug addiction treatment programs. “Community policing is not just for business owners, it is also for the people we’re arresting,” Harvey says.
The Colfax Business Improvement District is happy with the results of having a dedicated DPD bike patrol, but Locantore would like the city to commit more resources. Colfax Ave BID has allocated $30,000 from the 2017 budget to bring back MHPS to conduct additional patrols on Colfax through the summer into mid fall. Officers Carlson and Harvey are committed to their beat and say they would also like to see additional resources dedicated to Colfax.
DPD appears committed to maintaining a healthy bike patrol force. “On December 15, 2016, the Confiscation Fund financed the purchase of 45 Specialized Pitch Sport mountain bikes from Bike Source," Commander Lisa Davis reported. "The purchase included kickstands and rear bike racks at a cost of $22,940.55.” While officers are trained in basic bike maintenance, according to Commander Davis, DPD has "a maintenance contract with local bike shops, currently with Mojo Cycles in Bear Valley. We also have a pool of bike instructors and bike mechanics.”
Officers Carlson and Harvey said prior to the purchase they were on bikes purchased for the Democratic National Convention in 2008. Carlson says of the old bikes, “Yeah, they were a little run down after having been ridden by multiple cops. They worked, but they were constantly breaking down, always in and out of the shop. They were almost like Frankenstein bikes, where we would piece them together with parts from different bikes.” Both officers were happy to get the much needed new bikes. Carlson mentioned, “It was kind of like Christmas.”
Frank Locantore calls Colfax, “Denver’s premier main street,” and has a vision that includes “an effective coalition” of business improvement districts, DPD, the courts and social service organizations, all lead by the city of Denver, to address citywide the safety issues Colfax Ave BID is attempting to highlight with the funding of added patrols. Locantore sees Colfax as part of an ecosystem that is only as healthy as the people who live there. He paraphrases his friend, David Sachs, “Colfax is the most democratic street in Denver, all walks of life are on Colfax, and we would like to continue to say, ‘all are welcome.’” Colfax Ave BID has outlined their plan for Colfax in a 94 page document, which can be found on charactersofcolfax.com.
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