DENVER (CBS4) – While dozens of people continue to protest the enforcement of Denver’s camping ban, one of the city’s most respected and tenured police officers says often times the protests hinder those experiencing homelessness more than the sweeps themselves. Denver Police Commander Kathleen Bancroft said her team is often offering and providing services to those who experience homeless when protesters cause disruptions.
Bancroft, who has patrolled the streets of District 2 for nearly 30 years, said she understands why many may not agree with the sweeps. Many protesters have said they felt social and mental health workers should be engaging with those living on the streets instead of police. However, the City of Denver has left the burden of enforcing the camping ban on the police department.
“It’s a balancing act,” Bancroft said.
Bancroft said she genuinely desires to help everyone in her community, especially those who are experiencing homelessness. However, police reports and complaints have been stacking up by members of the public concerned with their own property and safety.
“It is hard to have a family and kids coming through an area where people are using their lawns as restrooms, just because they don’t have a place to go,” Bancroft said.
After decades of service, Bancroft said she tries to approach every sweep with the mentality of a servant to the public, which often starts with listening during a conversation.
“I just give them a minute of my time, or 10 minutes of my time, to listen to them,” Bancroft said.
Bancroft said often times protesters do not show up during sweeps until they are well underway. During the first hour, or more, of the sweeps officers are often trying to offer services to those living outdoors.
Some officers from the Denver Police Department are said to have taken people in need to doctor’s appointments, or to fill prescriptions which the officers paid for with their own money. Bancroft said she recently told some of the people impacted by a sweep that she could use City of Denver funds to provide them a hotel for a few nights. However, when it came time to provide those hotels, the city no longer had the budget to do so. So, Bancroft said she offered her own credit card to make sure they were able to still get a hotel.
“I gave my word and told them (that) I was going to get them in a hotel. And, I told them if it comes to it I will do it myself. I will put it on my credit card,” Bancroft said.
However, Bancroft said the presence of protesters can drastically impact the productivity of the sweeps, sometimes even impacting someone from taking free services they were wanting prior to protesters arriving.
Bancroft said during a recent sweep her officers convinced one man to seek out the mental health assistance he most likely needed. The man agreed to let the officers facilitate his family in a shelter, store his property and take him to a facility for short-term help. By doing so the man would be able to get back on the medications he had quit taking.
“We had agreements with everybody, so I didn’t have to enforce any of the steps of the camping ban,” Bancroft told CBS4. “We were there for an hour, and then the protestors showed up. The conversation changed.”
Bancroft accused protestors of disrupting the process and convincing the man that he shouldn’t take the services the officers were offering.
“Some of the protestors came in and stirred up the young man, and he refused our services,” Bancroft said.
At that same sweep, protestors moved in toward the police officers enforcing the camping ban. Bancroft applauded her officers for establishing a perimeter, shutting down traffic to protect all involved and standing their ground even when being verbally attacked. Bancroft said one of her officers was wounded in the response.
Some have accused officers of taking excessive force during the sweeps, while others have accused them of not offering sufficient services to those impacted by homelessness.
While the sweeps often don’t end as peacefully and proactively as Bancroft and the city may intend, Bancroft said she will still encourage her officers to help those experiencing homelessness.
Bancroft said she supported the protestors’ rights to voice their opinions, but hoped they would realize that sometimes the actions of a few can impact another’s ability to change their life for the better.
“Had (the sweeps) been left alone, those people would have been in the hotels getting the services they need, getting the medications they need,” Bancroft said.