Denver mayor OKs more money for program pairing police, mental health providers

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After the Denver City Council asked Mayor Michael Hancock to boost investments in police reform, inclusionary and housing programs, among other things, the city’s chief administrator gave a little.

Hancock released his draft budget for 2021 last month, which included millions in cuts as Denver faces historic tax shortfalls — including employee furloughs and smaller investments in social services. It also included changes to law enforcement practices.

Council reviewed the document and recommended seven top-line changes, suggesting where the extra money could be found. The mayor told the council Friday that he’d tweak his budget to meet some of their requests.

Council’s largest request was for a $3 million boost to the widely lauded STAR Program, which pairs mental health experts with police officers on certain calls. The group also asked Hancock to transfer the operation out of the Department of Public Safety to the city’s Department of Public Health and Environment, which has better infrastructure and staffing to run the program.

Hancock and others within his administration have touted the STAR Program as a beacon of success in a city clamoring for sweeping police reform. He repeated that praise again in his Friday letter, though he fell short of fully funding council’s request.

In his draft budget, Hancock penciled in a $1 million investment to the program. Now he’ll ask for another $1 million from the Caring for Denver Foundation, which had a stockpile of $41.5 million of unspent cash in May, Denver Auditor Tim O’Brien said in a Thursday report.

Plus, Hancock said he’ll add another $500,000 to the program from elsewhere in the budget and request a bit more from a funding match program. That would bring the total investment into the STAR Program to about $3 million, he said. However, it’s unclear whether he will move its operation to the city’s public health department.

While Hancock fell about a million short of meeting council’s request for the STAR Program, he did agree to add an extra $1 million in legal support for those facing evictions — an increasing problem as the city slogs through an economic recession.

He also agreed to add $391,800 for a rental registration and licensure program. It will help ensure properties follow city code and are maintained in a safe and healthy way, council said.

Hancock also said he’ll approve $300,000 for the Denver Public Library or Office of Children’s Affairs to provide traditionally underserved, Black, indigenous and other people of color with better access to computer and internet services.

“I want to reiterate my appreciation for your input and proposals,” Hancock wrote. “We were able to make these changes while still maintaining our financial stability and staying true to our Denver values.”

Hancock will submit a revised budget next week, and council will hold public hearings on it.

If council members are not satisfied with Hancock’s budget, they can make changes with a simple majority, subject to the mayor’s veto power.

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