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Denver leaders detail plans to roll out new Office of Neighborhood Safety


DENVER — Denver city officials on Wednesday detailed their plans to roll out the new Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS), a process they expect to take eight to 12 weeks.

Mayor Mike Johnston announced the creation of the office on Monday. It will focus on increasing community safety without involving police.

“We think there are so many services the city offers that help increase public safety, but do it without a badge and a gun,” Johnston said.

Four city programs currently housed within the Department of Safety will be moved to the new office, including the Office of Community Violence Solutions, the Denver AID Center, Safety Youth Programs, and the 911 operations of the STAR Program. As part of that move, $11 million and 65 employees will also be transferred to the OSN.

“We want those to all be under one roof. We want them to be easy to access for the community,” said Johnston.

OSN will fall under the mayor’s Office of Social Equity and Innovation (OSEI), which seeks to eliminate social inequity and social injustice.

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KMGH-TV

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston held a press conference Monday, announcing the creation of the new Office of Neighborhood Safetey.

Over the next two to four months, city officials will focus on integrating the four programs and their staff into the new office.

“Those teams are going to need an opportunity to get to know each other as human beings, but also get to know sort of how their operations plug into each other,” said Dr. Ben Sanders, who oversees OSEI as the city’s chief equity officer.

Sanders appeared before the Denver City Council’s Safety, Housing, Education & Homelessness Committee on Wednesday to provide councilmembers with a detailed plan for OSN’s rollout.

Sanders said a community advisory board will also be established to oversee OSN. According to Sanders, the community advisory board will be made up of 12 to 15 members appointed by the mayor and council.

“We want that board to be strongly representational because we want and need to hear from the entire city,” said Sanders.

On Tuesday, members of Denver’s STAR Community Advisory Committee spoke with Denver7 about their concerns. They fear their board will be dissolved in favor of OSN’s new community advisory board. Sanders said there were “no definitive plans” to get rid of the STAR Community Advisory Committee.

Both Sanders and the mayor have talked about the importance of community involvement with OSN. But members of the Denver Task Force to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety, which was created after the killing of George Floyd in 2020, said they have been left out of the process, despite its members developing recommendations and pushing for the creation of an OSN.

“This is not what we asked for,” said Dr. Robert Davis, the task force project coordinator. “This is a repeating of what traditionally takes place in city bureaucracies. The city comes with a proposal, designs it, develops it, and then their community engagement process is to sell it to the community.”

Dr. Lisa Calderón, a leading voice of the task force and former mayoral candidate, said the mayor’s office took their ideas and then excluded them from the process.

“There is broken trust,” said Calderón. “We had conversations with the mayor. I led his transition committee. We had conversations with Dr. Sanders. And yet we got shut out of this process.”

Davis said after the mayor rejected their recommendations, they decided to create their own office outside the city government.

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KMGH-TV

Dr. Robert Davis and Dr. Lisa Calderón speak to the Denver City Council’s safety committee.

Davis accused the mayor of launching a competing initiative.

“It’s like a child who abandons a toy until others show interest in it, and then he wants it back,” said Davis. “But it’s too late because this initiative belongs to the community, and we will see it through to fruition.”

Calderón said Johnston further alienated them by holding a press conference at the same time they were holding an event on their initiative.

“We had our event on the books for weeks and we included the mayor’s office, so they knew about it. There was no excuse to hold their event the same day as our event except to drown our voices out,” said Calderón.

Sanders said there was nothing nefarious about the press conference. He said the timing had to do with when space was available and when people participating in the press conference were free to attend.

“The idea that it was intentional or somehow intentionally nefarious is just not accurate,” said Sanders.

Johnston told Denver7 the city didn’t co-opt the task force’s efforts by creating the ONS.

“This was something that they asked us to do,” said Johnston. “We heard their feedback. We took action on it. I think this is a win-win for the city and for community leaders. I think the key is people shouldn’t care whose name is at the top.”

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston launches neighborhood safety office to combat crime

Despite their disagreements, both sides indicated they’d be willing to put their differences aside.

“I’m really hopeful that we can get the task force to the table as constructive partners,” said Sanders. “I do think that there’s a possibility there.”

Calderón said the burden is on the mayor.

“We’re willing to work with anybody, but they have to also respect community efforts. And right now, they haven’t been doing that,” said Calderón.

For their part, city council members said they were happy to see the city moving forward with creating an OSN and hoped voices from other agencies and programs were included. Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer said she doesn’t want to see OSN get siloed.

Sawyer said the two biggest problems city programs face are siloing and duplication of services.

Council President Jamie Torres said she is interested in watching how OSN grows beyond the existing programs.

The OSN is not a new concept. About a dozen cities across the country have set up similar offices.

Denver leaders detail plans to roll out new Office of Neighborhood Safety


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