Denver law enforcement are struggling to divert low-level offenders to the city’s Department of Public Safety’s (DOS) Assessment, Intake and Diversion (AID) Center, which opened earlier this year as a way to assist people who need resources and support instead of jailing them.
Despite the center’s strategic location directly across from Denver’s jail at 14th Avenue and Elati Street, officials say it has been difficult persuading low-level criminals to get the help they need.
The center is led by the DOS in collaboration with the Denver Police Department.
According to city leaders, the main goal of the center is to offer an alternative to jail time for those committing low-level crimes and to break the cycle of recidivism.
“We continued to see the same people they put into jail out in the community re-offending the same low-level offenses,” said DOS Executive Director Armando Saldate, who explained that the center offers assistance in the form of housing, food, mental health support, substance use services, employment and more.
However, despite the well-intentioned efforts, the AID Center has faced certain challenges. One key issue is getting community members to actually engage with the center’s services.
“I think in some cases there may be reluctance from the community member that they don’t know what that is,” Saldate said.
Resistance from individuals who need help has also been a stumbling block, making it difficult for officers to redirect them to the AID Center.
The center’s effectiveness has also been limited by the fact that less than 10% of referrals are coming from Denver police officers.
Saldate said that officers face obstacles such as outstanding warrants, which hinder the process of diverting individuals to the resource center.
Transportation to the center has also emerged as another issue. Despite efforts to provide free bus passes, accessibility remains a challenge for some individuals.
The center’s current operational hours, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, pose limitations as well. A potential solution lies in expanding the center’s operating hours to 24/7, but this would require additional funding and resources.
The AID Center has gained momentum due to partnerships with initiatives like the Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) and the Street Enforcement Team, which dispatch mental health professionals along with paramedics to nonviolent situations.
According to officials, such partnerships blend law enforcement with behavioral health expertise to enforce quality-of-life ordinances.
“Public health is increasingly at the center of public safety, and bringing these two elements together is essential to any strategy to make our streets safer and healthier,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock stated.
Municipal offenses such as prostitution, shoplifting, trespassing, public fighting and disturbing the peace are eligible for diversion to the AID Center instead of arrests. State-level offenses like prostitution and possession of controlled substances with no intent to distribute also fall under this umbrella.