Denver Police Chief Robert White says that if the city passes its proposed "unauthorized" camping ban next week, his department will use arrest as a last resort.
According to the Denver Post, White even promises that police will be more relaxed than the ordinance allows. If the camper hasn't broken any other law and shelter space were filled up or unavailable, "we aren't going to make an arrest," White says.
White has said before that he would take a "passive" approach to the measure at a City Council meeting and says that the camper would have to be completely unwilling to comply with officers in order for there to be an arrest.
Denver already has anti-panhandling laws, one of which--a "sit and lie" ordinance--prohibits sitting or lying on sidewalks downtown between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. That law is rarely enforced beyond verbal and written warnings from officers.
But if the urban camping ordinance is passed during a final vote next week, it would technically be illegal for anyone to sleep in sleeping bags, tents, or other constructed outdoor shelters anywhere where camping is unauthorized, like: alleys, sidewalks, public city parks or outdoor malls. Namely, where some of the city's homeless bed down for the night.
Last month the ban caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado which wrote a strongly-worded letter to Denver City Council members arguing that the ordinance criminalizes homelessness.
Denise Maes, public policy director of the ACLU of Colorado makes this statement in the letter:
The ACLU of Colorado finds the Ordinance mean spirited. Simply put, the Ordinance criminalizes homelessness in open view. Arguments to the contrary are simply false and statements to effect that the Ordinance does “not endorse arrests” ignore the plain language of the Ordinance. The Ordinance clearly provides for enforcement through citations and arrest and even permits the arrest of someone on private property camping “without the express written consent of the owner.” This provision places the burden of showing the owner’s consent on the individual accused of unlawful sleeping on private property.
Mayor Hancock, who has experienced periods of homelessness in his youth, says that the enforcement of this ordinance will be balanced.
Hancock elaborated in an April 2 letter about the ban on so-called "urban camping":
Having been homeless as a child, I will always take a thoughtful and compassionate approach to this issue. While the proposed ordinance would prohibit camping on public and private property without specific permission, I am also insisting on safeguards to protect people from unfair or unjust treatment.
However, the city's shelters may already be maxed out. Bennie Milliner, executive director of Denver's Road Home, a homeless advocacy group aimed at ending homelessness in Denver, told Westword that even if the city doubled its current shelter capacity, it would still not reach the necessary number.
Denver City Council will hold a final vote on May 14, and if passed, the ban will go into effect on May 29.
The Council has already initially voted 9-4 in support of the measure during a preliminary hearing.
WATCH: Testimony about Denver's "unauthorized" camping ban.
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