Denver forms a new downtown action team to curb crime near the Colorado Convention Center

Illustration of a security camera with police car lights

Image: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Denver leaders are turning to law enforcement and mental health specialists to improve downtown’s “unsafe” reputation.

Why it matters: Crime is crowding out businesses and large conventions at a time when downtown Denver is struggling to bring workers and tourists back to pre-pandemic levels.

  • “The reality is that we’re losing conventions and businesses as we market our city — and people have chosen not to come to downtown Denver,” Mayor Michael Hancock said at a news conference Thursday.

What’s happening: Denver is deploying a “Downtown Action Team,” first announced in April, which will bring a larger police presence, more specialists in substance abuse, graffiti and trash removal, and improved safety features like lighting to the heart of the city.

  • The plan will initially focus on curbing criminal activity, homelessness and drug use around the Colorado Convention Center — where crime is up 5% compared to the three-year average and drug- and alcohol-related offenses are up 60% per city official.
  • The mayor said the crackdown reflected an effort earlier this year at Union Station, where neighborhood attorneys say security improvements were made as a result of more than 1,200 arrests and subpoenas, mostly related to low-level drug-related crimes.

Details: Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas said the number of officers assigned to the convention center corridor will “depend on the day and the situation,” but declined to provide more information.

  • City officials remain in the dark on other specifics, including the size of the team, costs and the metrics used to measure success – although officials said each agency involved will be tracking data.

What you say: Much of downtown’s recovery will be valued by “intangible” factors, said Kourtny Garrett, head of the Denver Downtown Partnership.

  • “It’s the liveliness of the street. It’s bringing people back to our restaurants, it’s bringing our employees back, it’s bringing the energy back to downtown Denver,” she said.

The other side: Some business owners in the area say the crackdown on crime should have come sooner.

  • “We’ve complained about downtown issues for the last several years since COVID started. It’s November 2022, and are we really going to do this now?” Chris Fuselier, owner of Blake Street Tavern in LoDo, told CBS4.

Something to see: It’s unclear if Denver’s recent plan to reduce crime will result in a boom in business and bookings at the Colorado Convention Center.

  • Hancock’s limited term also ends next year, raising questions about whether a new mayor will keep the plan.