But so far, 2017 is shaping up to be different for the nearly mile-long mall in the heart of downtown Denver. Crime leading up to the summer was down 11 percent, according to a Denverite analysis, and property owners and businesses are reporting improvements.
The Downtown Denver Partnership and Downtown Denver Business Improvement District took a big step last year to show that 16th Street Mall is safe for shoppers, workers and visitors by hiring a new security manager and introducing a private security team to the area.
Both additions are part of the larger Downtown Security Action Plan completed early last year. The partnership and BID worked on the plan along with RTD, police, the city and Visit Denver, said Tami Door, president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership.
“The reason we created this is because our city is growing really fast,” Door said Monday. “The denser our urban environment becomes, the more important being safe, welcoming and inclusive is.”
Last year, when concerns about safety seemed to be at their peak, we looked at Denver Police Department’s numbers. The takeaway? If the 16th Street Mall had a crime problem, it hadn’t changed much in the last few years.
This year we revisited DPD’s crime data for the months and days leading up to summer 2017. Year over year, total crimes recorded by police dipped 11 percent or by about 67 incidents.
Violent crimes — murders, robberies and aggravated assaults — fell 44 percent or by 12 incidents from 2016 to 2017, according to the data.
The largest category of crimes was labeled by police as “other” and includes drug- and alcohol-related crimes, public disorder and weapon violations. The No. 1 type of “other” crime recorded in 2017 — 109 incidents — was criminal trespassing.
Door said “there is no question” that adding more security officers and features to the mall has made a difference and that the more than $800,000 being spent is “help(ing) drive forward the vision set forth in the Security Action Plan.”
“The numbers that we’ve seen over last year are quite dramatic and truly a direct result of efforts by the public and private sector,” she said. “If you just add more people, there’s some level of challenges that will come with that growth, yet in spite of this tremendous growth we’ve had a dramatic drop in crime.”
Denver Police Department also believes its changes have made an impact. DPD has increased the number of officers on the mall as part of its Walk the Beat program, said John White, police spokesman.
For safety reasons, White declined to say how many more officers or how much more time is being spent on the mall. But in addition to adding more surveillance, White said, police have also started taking a closer look at alleys in the area.
Adding lighting and restricting access to the alleys coming from the mall has made the biggest difference in reducing the crime numbers, Door said.
“What we didn’t know is some of our alleys weren’t that well lit and we wanted to make sure they were places you can’t tuck into and do things that are illegal,” she said. “We wanted to make sure they were used for business and utilitarian purposes.”
The partnership has started adding art, activities and lights to the alleys. The partnership has taken out “master permits” for seven downtown alleys, allowing them to control access and keep out people who aren’t there for purposes like special events, trash collection, utility service and emergencies.
The combined efforts seem to be paying off. Informal winter surveys by the partnership show 85 percent of business and property owners report an uptick in consumer confidence on the mall, Door said. A larger study is expected to be conducted in August and provide a year-over-year look at how 16th Street is perceived.
One factor Door danced around was “urban travelers.” She called the people who come to the Mile High City each summer to live in parks and on the streets “simply pieces of a much bigger puzzle.” Urban travelers were blamed last year by Mayor Michael Hancock and others for making visitors feel unsafe, taking beds from homeless people and in some cases causing crime.
“Urban travelers — it would be difficult for me to say if that particular component is better or worse,” Door said. “They’re a part of our overall fabric, and if people are doing things illegally, what we can say is that is being addressed.”
Subscribe to Denverite’s newsletter here.