Urban camping ban: Police delay enforcement to continue education
Today marks the announced effective date of Denver's new urban camping ban, an ordinance that makes it illegal to camp on public or private property without permission. After months of debate, followed by a two-week implementation period, both Occupy Denver and the homeless community prepared for its first day in action. They're still waiting. "We are not enforcing the ordinance right now," says Denver Police Department spokesman John White.
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So far, the spokesman has not heard of any official warnings being given, and any verbal ones are considered routine as the department approaches enforcement. "We got our word from (Denver Police Chief Robert) White that we are not to enforce it yet," says the detective. Although the ban went into effect at midnight, he did not outline a specific date for enforcement to begin. Instead, the department is exercising a grace period while officers and residents learn more about the ban.
Over the past two weeks, officers have been trained in the ban's enforcement protocol, which requires both a verbal and written citation in addition to several layers of assessment before any action takes place. Officers also visited several area homeless shelters to discuss the ban's implications and protocol with providers before it goes into effect, Detective White says.
The department has repeatedly promised "passive" enforcement of the ban, with arrests and citations planned only as a "last resort" if violators refuse to comply or accept city services. If arrested, violators face a maximum punishment of a $999 fine and up to one year in jail, but police officers say they would rather place people in shelters than in prison. "From a law enforcement perspective, the absolute, unequivocally last thing we want to do as a police department is arrest someone for a camping violation," DPD Chief Robert White said earlier in the debate.
In anticipation of the ban's enforcement, the number of people camped out at Occupy Denver's current home in Lincoln Park slimmed down noticeably last night. Roughly twelve people slept on the surrounding sidewalk overnight, and none faced warnings from law enforcement, occupier Nicole Sisneros says. "Everyone got really worried, but (police) didn't even come over to warn us," she says. "A lot of people got scared and left, but I slept on the sidewalk all night."
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