By Shawn Chitnis

DENVER (CBS4) – Two Denver city council members confirmed Tuesday they support the Defund The Police movement explaining that the concept calls for moving funding away from police departments so they have more focus and less responsibility. It’s a phrase that has gained popularity in Colorado and across the country since protests calling for justice in the death of George Floyd began two weeks ago.

(credit: CBS)

“When I first saw ‘Defund The Police’ I thought that that meant ‘Hey, let’s do anarchy,’ and I’m not a fan of anarchy,” Councilman Chris Hinds said. “It is more refocusing our society from one of punitive action to one of services and support.”

Hinds represents the 10th District of the City and County of Denver and shared his support for the movement with CBS4. Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore also confirmed to CBS4 she believes in the concept that some of the money currently going to the police department could be redirected to mental health services and other programs.

“Refocusing our nation, our society, from batons, sticks and tear gas, to social workers, and alcohol and drug abuse counselors,” Hinds added. “People who can provide help to people and lift them up, rather than beat them down.”

Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen told CBS4 he believes the department needs to reevaluate all aspects of its operations. He said that includes training, policies, discipline, and recruiting. The chief also said alternative responses and programs that avoid sending law enforcement would be helpful in some cases.

(credit: CBS)

“We want to be open, we want to listen, we want to take an objective review of all this,” Pazen said. “We handled hundreds of calls for service, some of those necessitate a uniformed officer’s response, some may not, and that’s what we need to take a look at.”

The city budget currently allocates 45 percent of funds to public safety, which includes Denver Police. Hinds says that number should be decreased but he is not in a rush to decide the amount and did not give a figure on Tuesday. Councilwoman Gilmore agreed, she said they still need more time to listen to the community and prioritize what other services could receive money instead of DPD. The city charter does not allow for mid-year changes to the budget, according to Hinds, so the earliest the budget could reflect this sentiment would be 2021. Hinds did say there may be an initiative in November to change the rules of the charter related to the budget.

“They’re not trained to be our dog catcher, they’re not trained to be our mental health professional, they’re not trained to be our substance abuse professional and yet we’re forcing them into it,” Councilman Hinds said. “They are being burdened with too much, by reducing funding, let’s focus on what they’re trained to do, rather than forcing them and hiring a whole bunch of law enforcement professionals to do things that they’re not trained to do.”

CBS4 reached out to the mayor’s office for comment on the movement. Mayor Michael Hancock said he believes in the role officers play in providing a service to the public, but also knows they need to be held accountable if they break the rules.

“I understand people’s frustrations, and there is always room to make improvements and implement big changes if they are necessary,” the statement said. “But I’m not inclined to oversimplify this into ‘defunding’ the police department.”

The Denver Police Protective Association also issued a statement when asked about the Defund The Police movement. The union for Denver Police officers said what happened in Minneapolis was a horrible event, and it was saddened and alarmed by the death of Floyd.

But the organization wanted to emphasize the major changes that already happened locally; including cultural diversity classes, banning chokeholds, collecting data on all citizen contacts, using body cameras, and policy changes directed by the Obama administration on better policing.

(credit: CBS)

“We want the citizens of our City to know all of the positive steps the Denver Police Department had, in the past few years, already taken and well prior to this recent event,” The DPPA statement said. “There is always room for conversation; there is always room for more improvement benefiting both the officer and the community.”

Hinds say in his predominantly white district he is seeing the emergence of three different groups coming together on the issue of defunding the police. Members of the Black Lives Movement seeking out equity, peaceful protesters who regardless of their cause do not want to see aggressive use of force by police, and neighbors who are not necessarily involved in the demonstrations, but do not want to see this kind of police presence outside their doors.

He said some citizens still complain about public safety spending, saying it is too low and does not cover all of their concerns in Denver.

“We still get complaints all day, every day, that we aren’t providing enough funding to public safety,” he said.

While changes in the budget won’t happen this year, he did suggest that DPD end its memorandum of understanding with the Department of Defense to access military grade equipment. He believes those vehicles are not needed on city streets.

“We really should be deliberate and measured and if we’re going to reallocated half of our city’s budget, it shouldn’t be on a whim,” Hinds said.

RELATED: Following Calls For Defunding, Denver Police Chief Vows For Reevaluation

Shawn Chitnis

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