Denver has banned five suspected drug users from its parks so far

Denver police officers now have the power to temporarily ban people from public spaces, and they’re starting to use it.
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Views of the Cherry Creek trail in downtown Denver. denver; denverite; colorado; cherry creek; trail; bridge; water; recreation; downtown; kevinjbeaty

The city of Denver is trying a new way to get illegal drug use out of its parks. Police officers now have the power to temporarily ban people from public spaces, and they're starting to use it.

A pedestrian bridge over the Cherry Creek. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
A little background:

The new policy was announced last Wednesday, Aug. 31. If a person is observed doing "drug-related" things, a police officer can issue them a notice saying they can't come back to a particular park or public area for 90 days.

No arrest or conviction is necessary, leading the American Civil Liberties Union to call this a "backwards approach," that ignores due process.

And now the details of the first week of enforcement:

Denver police say five of the 90-day bans were issued from Aug. 31 through Sept. 6. Only two officers have used the new power so far.

The suspensions went to:

  • Two middle-aged men at Civic Center Park. They were accused of sharing a toke of marijuana on the morning of Sept. 6. (Public marijuana use is illegal.)
  • Three middle-aged men at Sonny Lawson Park, near Five Points. One was accused of using marijuana on a basketball court. Two were accused of having a crack pipe. All three were cited at the same time on the evening of Sept. 3.

Each person was only suspended from the park where they were ticketed.

All five men were listed as "transient," or as residents of a homeless shelter or rehab center.

They ranged in age from 47 to 59.

The ACLU has argued that this policy is aimed at clearing out homeless people from the parks. The parks department says that it's reacting to "persistent and increasing complaints" about "misconduct and threatening conduct" associated with drugs.

Those banned may appeal their suspensions by emailing or mailing a request and then showing up at a hearing in person. At least a few of these people will also be dealing with citations for paraphernalia possession, while the marijuana-related bans came with non-criminal infractions.

Violating the parks ban can result in a fine of up to $999 or a year in jail.

One other thing:

The forms for the suspensions seem to anticipate that most of the bans will happen at a handful of parks. They are pre-printed with the names of the following specific parks, for officers' convenience:

  • Benedict Fountain Park
  • Cherry Creek Trail and Greenway
  • Civic Center Park
  • Commons Park
  • Curtis Park
  • Lincoln Park
  • Skyline Park
  • Sonny Lawson Park

Officers can also fill in an "other" park.

I think that it's probably too early to tell where and how often this new rule will be enforced, given that only a handful of bans have been issued -- but we'll be watching closely.

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