DENVER — New recommendations for criminal justice and policing would minimize unnecessary interactions with law enforcement and support people who are released from prison. The Reimagining Policing and Public Safety task force released a report in May with 112 recommendations that Denver city council members are continuing to review.
On Monday in front of the Public Safety Working Group, Denver District Attorney Beth McCann shared the proposals her office can get behind.
"I think it is important for us to look at prevention of crime, the causes of crime and how to we keep people from repeating that behavior," McCann said.
She agreed the criminal justice system can be improved.
"One of the things I am really happy, and proud of, that we are doing in this office is that we are able to use a restorative justice program," she said. "Not everyone needs to go through the traditional criminal justice process even when they have committed a crime."
The task force recommended developing, expanding and fully funding pre-arrest and pre-booking diversion programs in coordination with law enforcement and community providers.
McCann would like to expand on the number of cases her office takes for diversion and restorative justice programs.
"It costs money," she said. "We partner with the Conflict Center and we pay them per case. Mostly we are paying them with grant money, but it would allow us to accept more cases."
McCann also wants to explore creative ways to address crime that may be caused by mental health or substance use issues.
"We don't necessarily want everyone to go to jail or going on probation," she said.
The task force suggested building a facility that people with mental illness can go to after they get out of jail. The mental health facility would offer assessments and treatment within 24 hours after incarceration.
"I think having a central location would be really helpful," McCann said. "We do have a place right now where police can take those with mental health issues, the Solutions Center, but I think we need more. That is something they recommended that we could really work on as a community."
"Too often we see individuals taken to hospital, medicated, and then released, and we know this is not a sustainable practice, nor is taking someone to jail as a means for treating mental health crises," said Robert Davis, coordinator of the task force.
The group also recommended changes to laws, such as decriminalizing offenses like drug use and intoxication. The report also recommends prohibiting the Denver Police Department from conducting searches in relation to petty offenses or traffic violations.
Davis appreciates city leaders listening. Now he's waiting for more recommendations to become reality.
"We have to take a more comprehensive and holistic approach to how we manage public safety rather than just asking law enforcement to be the be-all, end-all around public safety," Davis said.
One recommendation McCann said she cannot support right now is ending cash bail.
"We would need to have a process so someone could have a hearing if we feel they should be held without bond," she said. "We have to have a way to make sure they are going to show up in court when we have indications they are not going to, or that they are dangerous to the community."
The task force will host a series of webinars designed to engage neighbors around policing and public safety. The first webinar is Tuesday at 6 p.m.
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